For the umpteenth time in the past several years, a Memphis player has decided that sitting out an entire season is better than playing another game for Josh Pastner, leading many to wonder once again if the head coach's days with the Tigers are numbered.
Gary Parrish of CBS Sports broke the news on Tuesday night that 2014 American Athletic Conference Rookie of the Year and 2015 All-AAC first-teamer Austin Nichols has requested a release to speak with other schools.
Memphis initially denied the request, which was a hairy situation in and of itself, but ESPN's Jeff Goodman reported on Thursday morning that Pastner has agreed to let Nichols go:
While we wait for more news on Nichols' situation—why did he decide to transfer? Why did he wait until now to do so? Where will he ultimately land? Let's take a look at what has become a disturbing trend for Pastner.
Since becoming the head coach of Memphis before the 2009-10 season, Pastner has signed 17 scholarship freshmen (excluding his impressive haul in the class of 2015). When signing a player, a coach hopes he either graduates from the university or makes a successful early leap to the NBA. As you can see in the chart below, that hasn't exactly been the case at Memphis.
|The Fate of Josh Pastner's Recruits|
|Tarik Black||Transferred after 3 years (Kansas)|
|Antonio Barton||Transferred after 3 years (Tennessee)|
|Will Barton||Declared for draft after 2 years (2nd-round pick)|
|Chris Crawford||Graduated from Memphis|
|Markel Crawford||Still on roster|
|Shaq Goodwin||Still on roster|
|Kuran Iverson||Transferred after 1.5 years (Rhode Island)|
|Joe Jackson||Graduated from Memphis|
|Jelan Kendrick||Transferred before playing 1 game (Ole Miss)|
|Nick King||Transferred after 2 years (Alabama)|
|Dominic MaGee||Transferred before playing 1 game (Grand Canyon)|
|Austin Nichols||Transferring after 2 years (TBD)|
|Pookie Powell||Transferred after 1 year (La Salle)|
|Adonis Thomas||Declared for draft after 2 years (undrafted)|
|Hippolyte Tsafack||Graduated from Memphis|
|Damien Wilson||Transferred after 1.5 years (Kennesaw State)|
|Dominic Woodson||Transferred after 1 year (Tennessee)|
In total, 10 of Pastner's 17 signees transferred. Some waited multiple seasons. Others didn't even wait until the start of their freshman year. Regardless of when they decide to leave, losing nearly 60 percent of players to other schools isn't much of a ringing endorsement for a head coach.
Several of the players who transferred were nearly impossible to work with, but how many times do you have to lure in bad fish before being labeled a bad fisherman?
Moreover, Memphis has not been anything close to the pipeline to the NBA that it was before former coach John Calipari left. Once a haven for future studs like Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans, the only Tigers to reach the NBA in the past five seasons and actually play in at least seven games are Will Barton and Elliot Williams—and the latter played just one season with the Tigers after transferring in from Duke.
In early January—after Kuran Iverson's two-game suspension and arguably poor Twitter decision, but before he transferred out of the program—ESPN's Eamonn Brennan wrote about the "slight mess in Memphis":
There is no mistaking the deep sense of dissatisfaction with Pastner in Memphis. Fans are at once rooting for someone they universally admire on a personal level but distrust as a professional. ... To date, Pastner has been just good enough to glide past [the variety of factors working against him]. But all it ever takes is one truly down season -- plus a few dumb tweets -- to trigger the whole mess anew. It's a precarious position for any coach to find himself in.
Winning cures a lot of ills, and Memphis' regular-season success has kept this hot-seat discussion largely at bay (on a national scale, at any rate), regardless of how many players have opted out of the program.
Pastner has a career winning percentage of 71.8—the exact same as that of Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan.
But it has to be noted that many of Pastner's wins came against dreadful Conference USA competition and that he has yet to reach the Sweet 16, posting a career tournament record of 2-4. If we factor in Memphis' annual decent-not-great strength of schedule and put some extra weight on those all-important tournament games, that winning percentage suddenly doesn't seem so impressive.
Thus, despite reaching four of the past five NCAA tournaments, it might be do-or-die time for Pastner.
Particularly with Nichols leaving—all five of Memphis' top-100 recruits from the class of 2013 have now transferred away—Pastner is forced to put all of his eggs in the Keelon Lawson basket. The assistant coach is the father of four boys expected to be excellent basketball players, two of whom (Dedric and K.J.) will begin their collegiate careers with Memphis this November.
There's a reasonable chance they'll have solid freshman seasons, joining forces with Nick Marshall, Shaq Goodwin, Markel Crawford and Kedren Johnson to help lead Memphis back to the NCAA tournament. If that happens, instead of continuing to perpetuate the hot-seat discussion, we'll likely praise Pastner for winning in the face of adversity.
What if the Lawsons struggle, though? Worse yet, what if they join the ever-growing list of talented players who either can't meet Pastner's standards or soon learn they don't enjoy playing for him?
Coaches under the age of 40 who have won seven out of every 10 games in their career don't get fired. They usually get lucrative extensions. But if the Tigers fail to reach the 2016 NCAA tournament, Pastner could be the exception to that rule.
Kerry Miller covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @kerrancejames.