Midnight Madness is, in many places, as much about recruiting as anything else. Top prospects are invited to campus to see just how much their future teammates -- and, by extension, they -- are loved, how much they're given, how much darned fun this whole college basketball thing can really be. All you need to do, son, is make the right choice for your future. We believe that choice is [insert school here].
Usually, such overtures are subtle. The sheer presence of a recruit is enough; everyone gets the underlying implication. They're there to be sold.
On Friday night, Memphis took that tradition up a notch. Adonis Thomas, the No. 9 overall recruit in the class of 2011, was in the building for Memphis Madness. Thomas is seriously considering the Tigers, and also lists Tennessee, Florida, Arkansas, and UCLA among his potential schools. Per CBS's Gary Parrish, Memphis made sure to get across just how much they think Thomas should stay at home next year with a not-so-subtle Jumbotron presentation:
He was in the front row at FedExForum on Friday night, and it's worth noting that Thomas might be the first prospect in history to have a video montage assembled completely for him. No, it wasn't presented that way officially; such would be an NCAA violation. What Memphis did instead was film a tribute to Penny Hardaway -- an icon from this city who played for the Tigers before becoming an NBA All-Star -- that featured little more than Hardaway and other local products who played at Memphis (like Elliot Perry, Andre Turner, Cedric Henderson and Hank McDowell) talking about how special it is to stay home.
Thomas stared up at the screen and watched it all.
The video ended with Hardaway saying these words: "You can make a difference by staying at home."
Again, as Parrish writes, it was not exactly subtle. (You can watch the video here.) But there's a reason second-year Memphis coach Josh Pastner is already such a prodigious recruiter at a school that by all rights could have fallen onto an extensive stretch of hard times following former coach John Calipari's departure. Pastner, the guy who was recruiting players to his AAU outfit when he was still shy of a driver's license, is an innovator. Count the Thomas video as among his latest big ideas.
And don't be surprised if other programs start following suit. It's the same as advertisers putting up mini-billboards above bar bathroom urinals: When you find your audience captive, you have to deliver the message. I'd say Adonis Thomas got the gist.