College Basketball Nation: Adonis Thomas

It’s not my job to second-guess the decisions the following players made when they entered the NBA draft without exhausting their collective collegiate eligibility. There are often personal situations tied to these calls.

But the reality is that these athletes were not selected during Thursday night’s draft. So perhaps another year in school would have been beneficial. It’s also important to note that many undrafted players will earn a slot on an NBA summer league squad or sign a free-agent contract soon, so this doesn’t mean that their NBA dreams are finished.

[+] EnlargeC.J. Leslie
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesDespite having another stellar season at NC State, C.J. Leslie got passed over in Thursday's draft.
C.J. Leslie (NC State) -- After leading his team to the Sweet 16 in 2012, Leslie appeared to be a lock for the first round of that summer’s NBA draft. He decided to return for his junior season, and his numbers were similar to his stats from 2011-12 (15.1 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 1.2 BPG, 1.0 SPG). He scored 20 points (8-for-12) in NC State’s round-of-64 loss to Temple in the NCAA tournament in March. Maybe another year would have allowed Leslie to add some muscle to his 6-foot-9, 200-pound frame, squash concerns about his leadership ability and prove that he can be a high-energy guy every night. Still, many players who were drafted lack his upside. This is stunning.

Phil Pressey (Missouri) -- Pressey was both brilliant and frustrating in three years at Missouri. On his best days, he was a 6-foot dynamic playmaker who could get to the rim and create offense for the Tigers. On his worst days, he was a turnover machine who made poor choices. His decision to turn pro was certainly surprising. He averaged 3.5 turnovers per game and only made 32 percent of his 3-pointers last season. Both were declines from the season prior. For an undersized point guard with turnover issues and limited shooting ability, one more year in Columbia could have enhanced his pro future.

Adonis Thomas (Memphis) -- Everyone wants a LeBron James clone. In recent years, the value of the 6-7 wing has skyrocketed. If you’re big and you can play on the perimeter a little bit, then the general assumption now is that you have “pro potential.” Thomas has pro potential, but his sophomore season was not an affirmation of that. He shot just 40.5 percent from the field and made 29.2 percent of his 3-pointers. It was his first full season after an ankle injury interrupted his freshman campaign, and even though he has all of the physical tools to compete in the NBA, he apparently didn’t wow execs in Year 2.

Vander Blue (Marquette) -- This was a classic case of “instant draft buzz,” I think. Blue had a stellar postseason and led Marquette to the Elite Eight. That effort included a 29-point barrage against Butler in the round of 32, but also included a 3-for-15 performance in a 55-39 loss to Syracuse in the regional final. But the perception about his NBA future had shifted dramatically during Marquette's run in the Big Dance. Blue could have entered 2013-14 as a preseason All-American. I wasn’t surprised when he entered the draft. I was surprised when he stayed in the draft. The 6-4 wing will have to find another way into the league.

Myck Kabongo (Texas) -- Well, this wasn’t the plan. Kabongo, a former McDonald’s All American, turned pro following a tumultuous season with the Longhorns. He was suspended for 23 games as a result of an NCAA investigation, but was a standout in the limited time he was available. He averaged 14.6 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 5.5 APG and 2.0 SPG in 2012-13. Pro execs, however, might have had concerns about his character; Kabongo was suspended after he lied to investigators about receiving impermissible benefits. His brief appearances last season did not help his cause. Looking at the current mess in Texas, however, returning might not have been the best move, either.

Dewayne Dedmon (USC) -- Dedmon had an unconventional journey to Division I basketball. He was a gray shirt and redshirt at Antelope Valley College before joining USC’s program. And he redshirted in 2010-11 with the Trojans. The 7-footer is a project. And that’s probably why he went undrafted. He hasn’t played a lot of organized basketball, so he’s still raw. He averaged 6.7 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 2.1 BPG and 1.1 SPG in 2012-13. Solid numbers, but not enough to convince NBA teams to draft him. His size and upside, however, suggest that he’ll get a shot somewhere.

B.J. Young (Arkansas) -- During the 2012-13 season, Young scored 29 points against Arizona State, 25 against Syracuse, 25 against Tennessee and 27 against Missouri. The 6-3 combo guard was an offensive catalyst for the Razorbacks. But shooting concerns only magnified questions about the position he’d play at the next level. He was a 23 percent shooter from beyond the arc last season, and he made just 67 percent of his free throws. Those numbers were probably more significant for NBA execs than his 15.2 PPG average and offensive explosions.

C.J. Aiken (Saint Joseph’s) -- Aiken is an explosive athlete who tortured Atlantic 10 squads with his ability to alter and block shots. But can a 6-9, 201-pound post presence duplicate that in the NBA? And if he can’t, can he defend NBA wings? Those were the immediate questions after he decided to enter the draft. Plus, his offense is raw and limited; he shot 25.3 percent from the 3-point line last season, but also averaged 10.4 PPG, 5.6 RPG and 2.6 BPG. He’s the kind of young man some NBA team will sign this offseason. He’ll get a chance to prove that he’s equipped to be an effective defender and offensive contributor at the next level.

Tahj Tate (Delaware State) -- This might be a case of a player who went undrafted because of the competition he faced and where he played. Or maybe it’s a talent thing. Tate earned second-team All-MEAC honors in 2012-13 after averaging 12.8 points a game. Now, the YouTube clips suggest that the 6-4 guard is a great athlete. But he wasn’t a great shooter (29 percent from 3-point range), and he actually was a better scorer in 2011-12. Still a head-scratcher on the surface. Again, we don’t know his thought process prior to this decision. But he seems like a long shot to crack a pro roster in the near future.

John Taylor (Fresno Pacific) -- Taylor would not have been the first player drafted from the Division II ranks. But it certainly would have been a surprise, even though Taylor had a phenomenal junior season at Fresno Pacific. The guard led Division II with an average of 27.5 points a game and his team to a 21-9 record. He also earned a national title in junior college. This would not be a shock if Taylor had put up similar numbers at a Division I school, but it’s difficult to project a player’s ability when he hasn’t faced the top competition at the collegiate level. Still, he probably did as much as he could within Division II basketball.

Editor's Note: For Dana O'Neil's piece on the search for Renardo Sidney and the perils of basketball talent gone awry, click here.
In the weeks leading up to the June 27 NBA draft, we’ll be taking a look at the 20 schools that have produced the best pros in the modern draft era (since 1989, when the draft went from seven to two rounds). Click here to read Eamonn Brennan’s explanation of the series, which will be featured in the Nation blog each morning as we count down the programs from 20 to 1.

Top Five NBA Draftees Since 1989

  1. Penny Hardaway (1993)
  2. Derrick Rose (2008)
  3. Tyreke Evans (2009)
  4. Lorenzen Wright (1996)
  5. Elliot Perry (1991)
Sixth man: Will Barton (2012)

The rest: Elliot Williams, Robert Dozier, Joey Dorsey, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Rodney Carney, Shawne Williams, Antonio Burks, Dajuan Wagner, Cedric Henderson, David Vaughn

Why they're ranked where they are: Star power. Guard power. Stard power? Whatever weird phrase you'd like to try to coin to describe it -- and hopefully you can do better than "stard power," yeesh -- Memphis has it, plain and simple. No other team ranked below them in this top 20 can say the same.

Rose was the MVP of the National Basketball Association at the ripe old age of 22, and you surely don't need me to tell you why his inclusion dramatically boosts Memphis' pro pedigree. Rose suffered a major setback with his anterior cruciate ligament tear in the 2012 playoffs, and his standing among Bulls fans was hurt by his inability (or unwillingness, or any of the other motives the city of Chicago ascribed to a dude taking the long view of his sure-to-be-brilliant career, as though this was a bad thing) to come back in time to face the Miami Heat in the 2013 stretch run. But Rose is one of the game's brightest young stars and, barring injury, will be an MVP-level player at the point guard spot for the next decade.

The key phrase, of course, is "barring injury." Just ask the top player on the list.

[+] EnlargePenny Hardaway
Andy Lyons/AllsportPenny Hardaway was on a Hall of Fame trajectory before a 1997 knee injury; still, he played 14 NBA seasons.
If you're my age, and grew up with Lil' Penny, you probably don't need me to outline why Anfernee Hardaway is on this list, or even why he's No. 1 above Rose. But in case you're too young to remember, Penny Hardaway was the capital-T Truth. A 6-foot-7 point guard who could score and dish and do pretty much anything else, Hardaway blitzed the NBA in his first four seasons, averaging 20.9 points, 7.2 assists, 4.4 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game in his second season, when the Orlando Magic won 57 games and knocked the Michael Jordan-less Bulls out in the second round of the NBA playoffs. As a young Bulls fan, I remember being horrified by this new world order. Balance was soon restored to the force but not before Nike could sell a gazillion pairs of Hardaway's Air Pennys, enough to make me the most consistently jealous 10-year-old basketball camp attendee of all time.

Despite the injuries -- chief among them a 1997 knee injury -- that eventually derailed what would have been a surefire Hall of Fame career, Hardaway went on to play 14 seasons in the league. Even if he hadn't, his early brilliance would have been enough. I know what I saw.

The rest of this list, as you might expect, is just sort of blah. Evans gets the nod at No. 3 because he has been a very productive player in his first four seasons, even if he's done so for one of the NBA's worst franchises (Sacramento) and earned a huge heaping of scorn for his seeming unwillingness to get teammates involved. Wright is a name you might best recall thanks to his mysterious 2010 disappearance and death, but, before that, the beloved Tiger had a nice 13-season NBA career. Perry did pile together 10 years in the league, but is listed fifth mostly because of that grotesque list of the rest, almost none of which has made any impact in the NBA. (To be fair, one-time uber-prospect Dejuan Wagner would've almost certainly cracked this top 5 had he not been beset by a series of scary medical ailments.)

Why they could be ranked higher: Because Hardaway was the aforementioned truth? Because Rose is currently the truth? Because you believe Evans is misunderstood or in a bad situation and could be a brilliant player in a system that knew how to use him (or in any system at all, which isn't possible when you fire coaches as frequently as the Kings)? Any of these arguments is permissible, but none is particularly convincing. On the other other hand …

Why they could be ranked lower: As much as it pains me to say this, we have no idea if Rose is ever going to be Rose again. With the possible exception of Russell Westbrook, no player in the NBA -- certainly no star -- relies as much on sheer athletic genius as Rose. He cuts, he bumps, he flies, he finishes, and when he's hitting jumpers, he's basically unguardable. What if all those cuts are a little less crisp? What if he can't do the same things he used to do physically? What does that mean for his career?

We could also argue that Hardaway, for as good as he was, was essentially a six-year player -- from 1993 to 1999 there were few guards in the game not named Michael Jordan as good as Penny. But after Hardaway's body betrayed him, he was a shell of his former self, doomed to wander the NBA wilderness until limping home with a 3.8-points-per-game season in his final year with the Heat. Don't get it twisted: I love me some Penny Hardaway. But he wasn't exactly a pillar of longevity.

Likewise, Evans is arguably trending downward. As a rookie, he averaged 20.1 points per game; he's declined in each subsequent season, from 17.8 to 16.5 to 15.2. These are not the best numbers by which to judge a young player's career, and Evans did shoot his highest field goal percentage (albeit on fewer attempts) in 2012-13. But after four seasons, Evans still lacks a consistent outside jumper, doesn't find teammates as often as he should and has too many character-related questions to project much added upside.

What’s ahead? Barton's career will be interesting to watch. A two-year player under Josh Pastner at Memphis, Barton was criminally underrated (much like the Tigers) in 2011-2012, his final season at the school, in which he finished with a 115.7 offensive rating on 25.6 percent usage. Despite putting up these All-America-level efficiency numbers, the 6-foot-6 guard was passed over until the Portland Trail Blazers selected him in the second round. Barton, who had an OK rookie season, has to improve his perimeter skills if he wants to stick as a conventional 3 in the league, but there's no reason he can't be a Kawhi Leonard type for the right team one day.

In the meantime, Pastner's program continues to recruit as well as any program in the country. Adonis Thomas killed his draft stock with an awful sophomore season, but he has the size and talent to stick in the league. D.J. Stephens is a freak of nature. Down the line, keep an eye on rising sophomore Shaq Goodwin and top freshman small forward Nick King.

Final thoughts: For a program that spent the entire aughts coached by John Calipari, Memphis suffers from a distinct lack of depth when it comes to its pro pedigree since 1989. (Where have you gone, Dajuan Wagner? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.) But at the top end, the players the Tigers have produced are undeniably stellar. Hardaway was a 6-foot-7 to whom God gifted the keys to Magic Johnson's tall-triple-double-machine legacy; only the whims of fate could slow him down. Rose, meanwhile, is still at the dawn of his career and already has one MVP -- in a LeBron James-owned league, and during a season in which Dwight Howard was insanely good -- under his belt. Even with the ACL tear, the long-term prognosis is pointing toward the Hall of Fame. Evans is divisive even within his own locker room, and his stock has taken a drastic hit, but there's no escaping the fact that he was the first player since James, Jordan and Oscar Robertson to average 20, 5 and 5 in his rookie season. That's still in there, somewhere.

Where Memphis' shot at the top 10 in this list falls apart is in the huge drop between that top three and the rest of its products since 1989. Look for Pastner to change that in the coming years. Until then, No. 15 feels right.
1. New American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco relished the moment Monday night as one of his teams -- for this season and, yes, for next -- won a national title. He was guaranteed of another heading into the women's final Tuesday night, which featured American-bound current Big East teams Louisville and Connecticut. It is true that Louisville is heading to the ACC in the fall of 2014. But that won't keep the league from celebrating the titles this fall. The old Big East guard is trying to brand the new league as the American rather than as the AAC. Aresco doesn't want the acronym used if possible.

2. Memphis coach Josh Pastner said he gave Tarik Black a Tuesday deadline to decide if he wanted to stay with the Tigers. He did not, even though he was graduating. "I want guys to be here with enthusiasm to be here,'' said Pastner. Black will transfer and try to play immediately next season. The Tigers also lost Adonis Thomas, who is declaring for the NBA draft. But the American-bound Tigers have one of the top recruiting classes in the country. "(Black) is a good guy and I wish him the very best. He graduated," Pastner said. "But we'll be fine. We're still really talented. We've got the main corps and we've got the No. 2 recruiting class.''

3. I had new Minnesota coach Richard Pitino on "Katz Korner" on Tuesday and I was struck by his confidence. Pitino is just like his father in that regard. Pitino had no hesitation in taking the Minnesota job once offered. Now, one would assume that no one coaching at Florida International would turn that down. But Pitino definitely has the confidence that he will win. Pitino's hire was overshadowed by the events of last week; now he's got to get into the grind of the new job. He was on the Georgia Dome floor Monday night after the NCAA title game, spent the post-game hours with his dad -- Rick, head coach of the champion Louisville Cardinals -- and said they didn't get to bed until 5 a.m. before Richard was up at 7 a.m. Richard Pitino now must spend his time wisely, re-recruiting the local players and trying to make inroads with a stellar underclassman crew in the state of Minnesota.
Unlike shooting or rebounding or point guard play or the variety of other specific basketball skills we’ve been highlighting in our Best of the Best lists throughout this week, the category of “most important” is far trickier to quantify. It depends not only on a player’s contributions, but on the team around him and where the two dynamics meet in the middle. There is also a constant temptation to conflate “most important” with “best” or “most valuable,” and those arguments (hello, baseball) always make my head hurt.

My editors asked me to name the 10 players most important to their teams in the country, and that’s precisely what I’m going to try to do. But I also attempted to avoid the rabbit hole that is individual talent at the mid-major level. Instead, I tried to narrow the criteria down to players most important to their teams’ chances of winning a national title, or making a deep tournament run, or maintaining some level of national relevance. Let’s give it a shot:

[+] EnlargeIsaiah Canaan
AP Photo/Dave Martin, FileWith much of last season's cast gone, Isaiah Canaan is even more key to Murray State this season.
1. Isaiah Canaan, Murray State: Last season, Canaan was hands down the best and most important player on a team that went 31–2, leading his team in minutes, points, assists, offensive rating (122.2), 3-point field goal percentage (45.6) and a wide swath of other statistical categories. He dominated the ball, scored at will and facilitated to boot. He was really, really good.

And that was on a team that included seniors Donte Poole, Ivan Aska and Jewuan Long, on a team that already was beginning to bring along guard Zay Jackson as Canaan’s new backcourt partner. The first three players are gone to graduation; Jackson is missing the entire season after pleading guilty to wanton endangerment for running over two people with his car in a Walmart parking lot. (True story.) So Canaan, already crucial to his team’s success a year ago, becomes the primary returner on a squad that still very much maintains conference-title and NCAA tournament aspirations. No one player in the country will mean more to his team this season.

2. Cody Zeller, Indiana: Zeller, the AP Preseason Player of the Year, obviously is important. He is the unifying force on a team that desperately needed exactly what he provided as a freshman: interior scoring, rebounding, strength, efficiency, you name it. He led the Hoosiers in field goal attempts by a wide margin, and Indiana fans could frequently be heard complaining that Zeller wasn’t getting enough touches. Truth is, they probably were right. Before he arrived, with similar personnel, Indiana won 12 games. Afterward, they went 27–9. He doesn’t get credit for all 15 wins of that improvement -- other players got better, too -- but there’s no question his impact was immense. You know all this already.

Here’s the twist, though: All offseason, we’ve been praising the Hoosiers’ depth, and there’s no question Tom Crean has a wealth of pieces at his disposal. But right now, aside from Zeller, the frontcourt is looking a little slim. Forward Derek Elston (better as a 15-foot jump-shooter anyway) is injured, and the eligibility statuses of freshman Hanner Mosquera-Perea (a wide-shouldered rebounding force) and Peter Jurkin (a 7-foot center) are both up in the air. Zeller already has much riding on his shoulders, and more help was supposed to be on the way. If it isn’t, Zeller’s task becomes even more daunting.

3. Doug McDermott, Creighton: Last season, there were two players in the country who used at least 28 percent of their team’s available possessions and posted offensive ratings (a measure of individual player efficiency) above 120. The first was Damian Lillard, who did this for the Portland Trail Blazers the other night. The other: Doug McDermott. He shot 63.2 percent from inside the arc (on 400 shots) and 48.6 percent outside (on 111), and he rebounded well on both ends for good measure. Creighton has guys who can play. Grant Gibbs is a sublime entry passer, Jahenns Manigat is coming on strong and Ethan Wragge can shoot it. But there’s no getting around the fact that McDermott’s incredible inside-out offensive versatility was the main reason his team boasted the fifth-most efficient offense in the country last season, per Seeing as Creighton’s defense was so lackluster, the Bluejays very much needed that offense. Even assuming they improve somewhat on the defensive end this season, they’ll still need to score like crazy in 2012-13. That’s where McDermott comes in.

4. Peyton Siva, Louisville: Every time we talk about the huge talents returning at Louisville, we talk about how good the defense is going to be. This is for good reason: It was the best in the country last season, good enough to get the No. 4-seeded Cardinals to the Final Four. It will keep them in excellent shape in the season to come. It’s bankable like that. Then, after we sing the defensive hosannas, we get around to talking about how so-so Louisville’s offense was, and how if the Cardinals are truly a national title contender they have to find ways to score.

Siva is the most crucial piece in this discussion. The UL senior point guard is 5-foot-11 and quick as lightning; the problem is that he just isn’t very efficient. He shot 24.6 percent from 3 in 2011-12. He turned the ball over on nearly a third of his possessions (29.3 percent). According to Synergy scouting data, Louisville uses Siva more frequently than any other player to initiate pick-and-roll sets at the top of the key, a play type it favors as a team, but he is merely average in his execution. Why? Because defenses don’t have to respect his jumper. They play under the screen, the play dies and Louisville goes to Plan B.

To me, if Louisville is going to turn its offense to something more coherent, Siva is the key. Without a more efficient performance at the point guard spot, the Cardinals will still be a brutally tough out. But they won’t reach their full potential.

[+] EnlargeRyan Harrow
Mark Zerof/US PresswireNC State transfer Ryan Harrow takes the reins of a talented, but again young, Kentucky squad.
5. Ryan Harrow, Kentucky: The NC State transfer is getting his moment in the John Calipari point-guard spotlight this season, a vaunted role typically reserved for NBA lottery picks. That spotlight can be harsh -- never more so than from Calipari himself -- but there are good reasons for Calipari’s insistence on point guard excellence. For one, his dribble-drive offensive system (which he has used variously in recent seasons, and might return to more in 2012-13) thrives on point guard play more than most.

The second reason? Harrow, who spent last season on the bench after a freshman campaign in Raleigh, is in many ways a veteran in Kentucky’s latest amalgamation of highly talented but still raw freshmen. His ability to run an effective offense, while dealing with players still getting used to each other and the college level at the same time, will be key to Kentucky’s success this season.

6. Trey Burke, Michigan: Burke has something of a similar challenge to Harrow’s, but one accentuated by what could be a major adjustment at the offensive end. Last season, Burke sprang onto the scene at the helm of an archetypal John Beilein-style "spread the floor and fire away" 3-point-shooting team. The team’s three most efficient shooters are gone, replaced by touted freshmen (Glenn Robinson III, Mitch McGary) unlike anything Beilein has had the luxury of landing during his tenure in Ann Arbor. Now, Michigan’s best lineup will look more conventional, with big, athletic, bruising players.

This could be a boon on defense, but it will require a shift on offense; it seems almost unfathomable the Wolverines will shoot nearly as many 3s this season. At the middle of it all will be Burke, a preseason All-American who will see his distribution and leadership abilities fully put to the test.

7. Adonis Thomas, Memphis: It was tempting to put point guard Joe Jackson in this spot. The same could be said for center Tarik Black. Jackson has still yet to harness his immense talent in a totally cohesive way; Black can’t seem to stay out of foul trouble. But I decided to go with Thomas. Why? For one, he’ll be stepping into former Tiger Will Barton’s shoes, and there was no mistaking Barton was the best player on a pretty underrated 2011-12 Memphis team. But Thomas could arguably be even better, at least on the offensive end; by all accounts, the 6-6 small forward has been utterly lacing long-range shots all offseason. That versatility would make Thomas, who played power forward until his injury last season, an utter nightmare to guard and could introduce a new dynamism to a Memphis offense that was already pretty good in the first place. I’m really intrigued.

8. Lorenzo Brown, NC State: C.J. Leslie is the obvious pick here, but I think we kind of know what we’re going to get with him. He’s athletic, he’s one of the best in the country at catching on the block or elbow and diving to either side of the rim, and he should be locked in from start to finish this season. Maybe that’s presumptuous, but I’m taking Leslie’s productivity as a given. (OK, it’s definitely presumptuous. Make me look smart, C.J.) Brown, on the other hand, feels more crucial because, like some of the other PGs on this list, it is his job to make the whole Wolfpack thing work. That includes integrating Rodney Purvis; playing better defense at the point of attack; and keeping Leslie involved and finding sharpshooter Scott Wood on the wing. If Brown has a top season, NC State might indeed be worthy of that lofty, tourney-run-infused No. 6 preseason ranking. If not, the “overrated” refrain will ring out early and often.

9. Phil Pressey, Missouri: Senior guard Michael Dixon’s indefinite suspension probably won’t last too long, but that’s hardly the only reason Pressey deserves a nod here. Along with Dixon -- who is more of a catch-and-shoot player than Pressey, a gifted ball handler, penetrator and creator -- Missouri’s backcourt has kind of a crazy/thrilling challenge on its hands in 2012-13. The Tigers have to replace the losses of Kim English, Ricardo Ratliffe and Marcus Denmon with four transfers: Keion Bell (from Pepperdine), Jabari Brown (from Oregon), Alex Oriakhi (from Connecticut) and Earnest Ross (from Auburn). Those players have all been on campus for a while, and it’s not exactly like figuring out guys you just picked up in an open run ... but compared to the rest of the country, it’s not all that far off, either.

10. James Michael McAdoo, North Carolina: It will be easy, in the coming months and years, to forget just how good North Carolina’s 2011-12 frontcourt was. That’s what happens when you have gigantic expectations and bow out of the NCAA tournament short of the Final Four. But let it be known: Tyler Zeller and John Henson (and, oh yeah, Harrison Barnes) were really good. Not only did they control the paint and score easily on the offensive end, but they were fast enough to race down the floor in Roy Williams’ up-tempo system, getting easy buckets on offense and turning UNC’s interior defense into its overall team strength.

Given all that, McAdoo has a ton riding on him in 2012-13. He was a highly touted recruit who probably could have been a lottery pick last season, but he chose to avoid that route (word to Marvin Williams) and come back to prove himself on the college stage. Carolina returns some promising wings (P.J. Hairston, Leslie McDonald) and brings in a really interesting frosh at point guard (Iowa native Marcus Paige), but McAdoo will be in charge of the low block. If he lives up to his heady NBA potential, look out. If not, UNC will labor. It’s that simple.
Not just well, according to Memphis coach Josh Pastner. He's "shooting the daylights out of the ball."

That's the crux of a piece from the Commercial-Appeal's Jason Smith, which took note of Adonis Thomas' dedication to post-practice shooting drills and the benefits Thomas is seeing. The 6-foot-6 sophomore forward won the 3-point shooting contest at Memphis Madness last weekend (beating two of the team's guards along the way) and has apparently excelled to the point where Pastner is now surprised when he misses:
[He] has consistently buried shots in practice drills and scrimmages -- so much so that Pastner pulled him to the side Sunday after Thomas missed two in a row.

"I told him, 'For you to have two short shots like that, it means your legs are tired. Don't stay after practice (to shoot). I want you to stay off your legs,' " Pastner said. "It's because I'm expecting him now, every time that thing is released, that it's going in the hole."

It's not like this marks a major transformation; Thomas, a highly sought-after Memphis native, was already a good shooter as a freshman. He shot 51.5 percent from inside the arc and 40.5 percent outside it, and posted solid adjusted shooting rates in the process (53.9 effective field goal percentage; 55.5 true shooting). But when he wasn't missing games thanks to injury, Thomas was playing slightly out of position at power forward, which allowed Pastner to play Thomas and star small forward Will Barton at the same time. Needless to say, outside shooting was not a priority.

This summer, Barton -- one of the more underrated all-around players in the country last season -- left for the NBA draft. Meanwhile, Pastner acquired help in the frontcourt, namely touted prospect Shaq Goodwin, who will likely play significant minutes in the paint alongside bruising center Tarik Black. (Providing, of course, that Black can stay out of foul trouble. That's a big if). If all goes as planned, Thomas will be able to play what he calls his more natural position, small forward. Given his size and very legitimate NBA ambitions, he's surely right.

For Tigers' opponents, the idea of a guy big, strong and athletic enough to play power forward as a freshman suddenly finding a lethal 3-point shooting stroke just as he moves out to the perimeter has to be frightening. How do you stop that, exactly? For Thomas, it proves something on an individual level. The best players -- the guys who go pro, and make a career of it -- are always the hardest workers. In that regard, even with his best college days ahead of him, Thomas is already ahead of the curve.

5 Questions: Memphis' Adonis Thomas

October, 1, 2012
Memphis forward Adonis Thomas (8.8 ppg) entered last season amid high expectations. The 6-foot-6, five-star talent was ranked ninth among Recruiting Nation’s Top 100 prospects for 2011.

And the rapid start to his freshman year backed those projections. He recorded double figures in six of his first 16 games with the Tigers. Then he suffered an ankle injury in January that required surgery. Thomas returned in time for March Madness but played limited minutes.

The sophomore recently discussed the injury, his role on the 2012-13 team and last season’s lessons with

[+] EnlargeAdonis Thomas
Marvin Gentry/US PresswireMemphis is surely looking forward to having Adonis Thomas healthy again this upcoming season.
You returned in time to play a few games toward the end of last season after suffering that ankle injury. But you didn’t appear to be 100 percent. What’s the status of the ankle right now as you prepare for this season?

Adonis Thomas: As far as my ankle, it’s 100 percent. My doctor said that it can’t be re-injured. Last year, I only played half of a freshman season. So coming into this season, it’s almost like I’m trying to finish the rest of my freshman season and not even being a sophomore with my injury in January.

How difficult was that experience, considering how well you were playing at that point?

AT: It was real tough. Me and my coach and the staff, we discussed it. They felt like I was coming so far, coming to play and making a big contribution to this team right when we were supposed to start conference play. It was heartbreaking because … I’m a real competitor. I wanted to contribute to this team. Coaches expected big things from me in the season and I just hurt myself in practice. But I learned a lot just from watching. Basically, just where to position myself on the floor, how to be more alert as far as what’s [happening] on the court. It’s a lot of things. How to get to open spots on the court. There were a lot of open spots on the court that guys couldn’t see that I saw.

This team lost Will Barton, who led the program in minutes (35.3), points (18.0) and rebounds (8.0) per game, along with a few other contributors. How will you help this team fill that void?

AT: Will was a great player. He contributed a lot. He did a great job. We even had guys like Wesley Witherspoon (7.2 ppg). [Charles] Carmouche transferred. Those guys did a great job on the team. But we’ve got great players on the team. They’re looking for me to do great things on the court but even if things don’t happen that way, I always can count on the rest of my teammates because the growth of the teammates on this team, as far as contributions, will be real great. We’ve got recruits that have come in and the contributions are going to be even more because these guys are more mature. A lot of these guys, half the team, [are] probably juniors this season, and we have a couple seniors. But it’s going to be a lot more contributions everywhere on the court.

This team led St. Louis in the second half of that NCAA tournament loss in March and then collapsed. What lessons did this group take away from that moment?

AT: It was all about staying poised. With a tournament like the NCAA tournament, things are going to get out of hand. Things are going to go back and forth. Every team is great so you have to stay poised. Everybody has to stay under control. Everybody has to stay together. That’s one of the things we worked on this team over the summer, [which is] going to be great for this team. Everybody is more poised this season. And everybody looks to be more of a leader. If everybody continues to listen to one another, everything will be under control.

You played a variety of roles prior to your injury in January. Has Coach Josh Pastner offered any insight as to how he’ll use you this season?

AT: It’s more balancing my game. I’m sure Coach [will] have some plays where my matchup is going to be smaller, where he’s going to post me a lot in the game until they make a decision about what they need to do. Or [there’s] going to be times where I’m strictly on the wing and being able to attack more and make the outside shot.
Josh Pastner’s Memphis Tigers exited last season’s NCAA tournament after a second-round loss to St. Louis in Columbus. But the Tigers will bring back most of their firepower next year, although they’ll miss versatile wing Will Barton. Still, they’re stacked and ready for another run to the Conference USA title in their last season as a member of the league. They will be headed to the Big East in 2013-14.

Pastner recently spoke with about all things Tigers basketball.

What are your expectations for William 'Shaq' Goodwin (ESPN Recruiting's No. 31 prospect in the 2012 class)?

[+] EnlargeShaq Goodwin
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhThe Tigers are counting on contributions from freshman Shaq Goodwin next season.
Josh Pastner: I think Shaq’s going to have an opportunity to make an impact. I was really impressed that he made the USA 18-and-under team. I think that says a lot about his motor and his drive because he was the guy that wasn’t in basketball shape right away and here he is going to a higher altitude [tryouts were held in Colorado Springs, Colo.] and played his way to making the team. That’s a great credit to him. We’re counting on him and expecting him to help us. Regardless if he’s a freshman, we’re going to count on him to produce for us.

Will Barton (18.1 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 2.9 apg, 1.4 spg, 0.7 bpg) did so much for your squad last season. How do you replace him?

JP: It’s not about the points that we’ll miss. The main thing is the rebounds. He was getting eight, nine rebounds per game. We’ve got to replace those. We’ll be able to replace scoring but we’ve got to replace the rebounding. And that’s a big thing. The other thing with Will is he shot [51 percent] from the field. He was very, very efficient, so anything we try to replace that we lost with him, we’ve got to continue to be very efficient. But the most important thing is on the glass.

How have you handled the realignment talks and maneuvering this offseason with Memphis preparing for its move to the Big East in 2013-14?

JP: You know, I just kind of go with the flow. I don’t even feel the effects right now because our focus is only for this upcoming season, which we’re in Conference USA. Not until this season is finished do I really start shifting my focus because I’ve got to focus on Conference USA for this season. Now, we’re making sure we prepare for the future. … But any of the changes don’t really take place for us until 2013-14.

How did injuries, especially Adonis Thomas’ ankle problem, impact your program last season?

JP: We had two of our starters out with injuries in Adonis Thomas, who’s a pro prospect, and Charles Carmouche. Those guys we missed for the second half of the season. That’s why I was very proud of our team. We were able to win 20 of 23 games, still won 26 games, win the conference regular-season championship with two of our starters down. That’s a credit to our guys really stepping up and picking up slack where slack needed to be picked up.

What’s the ceiling for a healthy Adonis Thomas?

JP: I think Adonis can be very, very good. He’s a high level player. And he’s a high-level character guy. You put those two together ... that’s a great package and so I’m really excited for this upcoming year with Adonis.

A closer look: G'town 91, Memphis 88 (OT)

November, 23, 2011
Georgetown celebratesAP Photo/Eugene TannerGeorgetown's Mikael Hopkins (3) and Tyler Adams (0) celebrate the overtime victory over Memphis.
Overview: One day after a double-overtime victory against Tennessee, the eighth-ranked Memphis Tigers were forced into an extra period once again in Wednesday’s fifth-place game against Georgetown. This time the results weren’t as favorable for Josh Pastner’s squad, which fell 91-88 to the Hoyas.

While Memphis, which was thumped by Michigan in Monday’s opener, leaves Hawaii as the Maui Invitational’s biggest disappointment, Georgetown was arguably the event’s most pleasant surprise. The Hoyas' roster features 10 freshmen and sophomores, but they hardly played to their age Wednesday. Georgetown kept its poise while Memphis crumbled under pressure. Jason Clark scored 26 points and Henry Sims added 24 for the Hoyas, who improved to 4-1. Will Barton had 22 points to lead the Tigers.

Turning point: With his team trailing 86-85 in overtime, Clark buried a 3-pointer with 52 seconds remaining that gave Georgetown an 88-86 lead and momentum it would never relinquish. Clark made four of his seven 3-point attempts and was 9-of-17 from the field overall. Memphis had one last shot trailing 91-88, but Antonio Barton’s guarded 3 at the buzzer barely nicked the rim.

Why Georgetown won: The Hoyas' size and overall length was certainly a factor, as Memphis had trouble establishing any sort of presence in the paint. Georgetown also pestered the Tigers into 17 turnovers. But the biggest difference was the Hoyas’ patience on offense and overall shot selection late in the game. Both teams made about 49 percent of their field-goal attempts, but Georgetown was more disciplined during crunch time than the Tigers, who forced things and pressed when it mattered most.

Why Memphis lost: Early on, Pastner’s squad was terrible defensively. There’s no way such a young Georgetown squad should have 47 points at intermission. The other problem was that Memphis made a ton of bone-headed mistakes down the stretch that likely cost it the game. One of the most crucial errors came in final seconds of regulation with Memphis leading 78-76. Instead of letting some time run off the clock, point guard Joe Jackson penetrated into traffic just a few seconds into the shot clock and tried to force a pass to Wesley Witherspoon. Georgetown came up with an easy steal with 35 seconds remaining, and the Hoyas capitalized when freshman Greg Whittington got an easy put-back off Sims’ missed jumper to force a 78-78 tie with 18 seconds left.

More sloppiness ensued moments later, when Memphis couldn’t come up with anything close to a quality shot as time expired. Instead, Adonis Thomas was forced to throw up a 27-foot 3-pointer that didn’t even hit the rim. Also, despite calling a timeout, Memphis failed to get a good look on its final shot in overtime. With none of his teammates open, Antonio Barton had no other choice but to pump fake and shoot an off-balance 3-pointer that would’ve tied the game. The attempt was way off.

Other observations: The Hoyas signed a true gem out of Missouri in freshman Otto Porter, who had 9 points, 8 rebounds, 4 steals, 3 assists and 2 blocks off the bench Wednesday. ... Speaking of freshmen, Memphis’ Thomas (5 points, 1 rebound, 4 turnovers) isn’t progressing nearly as quickly, despite being more highly touted ... Memphis forward Stan Simpson, a juco transfer, came off the bench and hit some huge free throws late in Wednesday’s game. ... The slew of NBA scouts that made the trip to Maui this week surely developed a positive opinion of Georgetown’s Hollis Thompson, whose versatility was on full display Wednesday. ... Take away Nate Lubick’s 0-for-6 performance from the field, and Georgetown went 34-of-64 Wednesday. Pretty impressive ... I’ve been saying this for two years, but Hoyas guard Clark is one of the country’s most underrated players. ... Same goes for John Thompson III in the coaching category.

What it means: There’s no way Georgetown is the 10th-best team in the Big East. The Hoyas are big, versatile, athletic and well-coached. Their biggest flaws are a lack of an experienced, high-level point guard and their overall youth. But anyone who witnessed Georgetown’s games against Kansas and Memphis could see that their younger players are seasoned beyond their years. At this point Georgetown looks like a fringe top-25 team that could break into the rankings with a few more quality wins.

No one doubts Memphis’ talent, and the Tigers have certainly come a long way from last year in terms of maturity. Still, Pastner’s team doesn’t look crisp on offense and the intensity often seems to be lacking on the defensive end. But the bottom line Wednesday was that Memphis just didn’t play smart basketball when it mattered the most.

Up next: Georgetown hosts IUPUI on Monday before traveling to Tuscaloosa for a Dec. 1 tilt with Alabama. We’ll know a lot more about the Hoyas after that game, as the Crimson Tide will provide Georgetown’s toughest test of the season to date. As for Memphis, it hosts Jackson State (Monday) and Austin Peay (Saturday) next week before traveling to Miami for a tough road game Dec. 6.
Overview: On Monday, it took us until the fourth matchup of the day to get a really competitive, tight game. On Tuesday, the Maui Invitational wasted no such time. In the first game of the day -- a 9 a.m. tipoff locally -- the Memphis Tigers and Tennessee Volunteers played a high-octane rivalry thriller that took two overtimes to decide. Memphis led for much of the game and by as much as 16 in the first half, but Tennessee closed the lead in the second half, and the Volunteers -- led by a brilliant performance from forward Jeronne Maymon -- kept finding bucket after bucket as they refused to go away.

There was suspense until the final whistle. With 3.5 seconds remaining, Tennessee's inbounds pass was stolen by Memphis forward Wesley Witherspoon, but Witherspoon -- thinking the game was over -- traveled and gave the ball back to the Vols with one second left on the clock. Maymon's fadeaway elbow jumper missed everything, though, and Memphis escaped with the 99-97 win.

What a game.

Turning point: The final moments of the second overtime decided the game, but Tennessee, after battling back for 45 minutes, squandered a major opportunity to seal a win in the first OT. With 35 seconds left, UT guard Trae Golden drove to the rim and attempted a wild reverse layup -- one of Golden's 16 misses Tuesday (3-of-19) -- that was rebounded by Memphis guard Will Barton. Barton quickly fired the ball upcourt to teammate Chris Crawford, who dipped into Tennessee's defense and converted a quick layup on the break. That tied the game at 91-all, the Vols couldn't get a good look in the final 26 seconds and the game moved to double overtime.

Why Memphis won: Its offense thrived. After an anemic and confused offensive performance in Monday's loss to Michigan, the Tigers relentlessly attacked UT's defense, creating a score of quality interior looks in the process. By the end of the game, the Tigers had shot 36-of-70 from the field -- including a tidy 6-of-9 mark from the 3-point line -- filling it up to the tune of 1.27 points per possession. The Tigers weren't much to look at on the defensive end and they still had their fair share of mistakes all over the floor, but the fluidity of their offense and the ease with which they generated quality opportunities held them together during wave after wave of Volunteers attacks.

Why Tennessee lost: Impatience. Tennessee was at its best when it worked into the teeth of Memphis' defense, generating post opportunities and easy catches for Maymon on the low block. When it got impatient and settled for 3s, it rarely found success. Tennessee shot 7-of-21 from beyond the arc, as Golden and guard Cameron Tatum combined to make just two of their 12 3-point attempts. Even worse, a handful of those misses came late in regulation and overtime, when every possession was crucial. If just a few of those shots had gone down -- or a few of those looks had gone to Maymon in the low block -- this outcome might have been very different.

Star of the game: There were too many to pick just one. For Memphis, the stars came in brotherly form: Will and Antonio Barton combined for 46 points, 16 rebounds and 17-of-28 shooting from the field. Both brothers were impressive. Will is approaching mastery of the midrange game; he slices to the rim and curls off screens to create easy look after easy look. Antonio's shooting (4-of-5 from 3, 8-of-11 from the field) and intelligent work off the ball -- his hand-off wing jumper with 1:16 left in the second overtime was a rare moment of beautiful old-school basketball in this streetfight of a game -- could be major boosts for the Tigers all season.

But the award for the game's best performance has to go to Maymon, who had a borderline legendary day in the Volunteers' interior. Maymon shredded the Tigers' defense time after time; when he didn't catch the ball and score it himself, he worked the offensive glass for an easy putback. Maymon finished with 32 points (8-of-15 from the field, 16-of-17 from the free throw line) and 20 rebounds (nine of which were offensive boards), becoming the first power-six conference player to post a 30-point, 20-rebound game since -- get this -- Blake Griffin. Considering Maymon had never scored more than 14 points or grabbed more than 12 boards in his career, it feels safe to say a star is born.

What it means: Both teams have plenty to improve on. The Tigers seem to have flipped 180 degrees from last season's style, when they were turnover-prone and ugly on offense but tough and rangy on defense. This season, Memphis has to start congealing on defense. The same can be said for Tennessee, which struggled to get stops all afternoon Tuesday, but more important for the Volunteers is getting intelligent play from Golden at the guard spot. Golden can really score, but his decision-making raises serious questions, and his 3-for-19 shooting performance -- and his tendency to force those shots outside the flow of Cuonzo Martin's offense -- was a big reason Tennessee could never overtake the Tigers.

Still, both teams will take away more positives than negatives from this one. Memphis will be encouraged to see its offense achieve this balanced early form, and coach Josh Pastner will be especially thrilled with how well his team took care of the ball. (The Tigers were one of the most turnover-prone teams in the country last season. On Tuesday, they coughed it up just 12 times in 75 possessions.)

And Tennessee fans should be absolutely stoked. After losing their former coach to NCAA scandal, seven seniors to graduation, and Scotty Hopson and Tobias Harris to the NBA draft, the Volunteers were supposed to face a daunting rebuilding project this season. Instead, they're discovering that even Bruce Pearl's reserves are talented. Maymon might be one of the best big men in the SEC, while Golden and Tatum -- despite their shooting struggles Tuesday -- clearly are capable of hanging with some of the best talent in the country. Add in Martin's hard-nosed style and the inherent improvements this inexperienced team will make, and it would the appear the Vols are way ahead of that so-called rebuilding schedule.

More observations: Pastner has a lot of weapons, and he might still be figuring out his rotation. For example: Starting guards Joe Jackson and Charles Carmouche played just 19 and 15 minutes, respectively, while reserves Antonio Barton and Chris Crawford played 33 and 37, including almost all of the two overtime periods. Freshman Adonis Thomas didn't start, either, but he played 38 minutes (and scored 19 points on 7-of-10 from the floor). If Pastner wanted to, he probably could run five-man shifts a la Division III novelty Grinnell. Short of that, Pastner's allocation of minutes appears very much in flux. That's a problem -- starters typically want to play starter minutes -- but it's the good kind of problem. Memphis has a deep rotation of viable options, and Pastner has plenty of time in this 2011-12 season to figure out which combination works best.

What’s next: Memphis moves forward in the consolation bracket, where, barring a major shock, it will play Georgetown in the fifth-place game at 5 p.m. ET Wednesday. Unfortunately for Tennessee, the Volunteers now are slated to head to the seventh-place game, in which they likely will play tiny Chaminade at 2:30 p.m. ET Wednesday. Why is that unfortunate? Because the Vols have played well in Maui, first against Duke and then against Memphis, and on those merits, they deserve to head back to the continental United States with more than a win over Chaminade to show for their efforts. Still, anyone who saw this team this week would have to have been impressed. Big things await.

Memphis trainer is effective, mysterious

September, 14, 2011
New Memphis strength and conditioning coach Frank Matrisciano is an interesting guy. A trainer to top NBA and college players, he was hired this offseason by Memphis coach Josh Pastner, who probably won't be putting a photo of the guy in a media guide.

That's because Matrisciano does not wish his face to be shown. When Andy Katz did a story on Blake Griffin working out a few years ago, Matrisciano showed up "wearing his usual attire: boots, wraparound shades, a military desert sun hat, a weight jacket and long-sleeved shirt, shorts and, just in case the sand starts swirling, a pullover face-mask hood."

Pictures of Matrisciano have appeared with his face covered, and now that the workout guru is working for Memphis, the mystery continues.

As if he were after Bigfoot, Jason Smith of The Commercial Appeal recently came close to getting a glimpse of Matrisciano, who has not been interviewed since joining the program.
I heard a voice from the behind the blue partition screaming. I gathered it was Frank, and wanted so badly to peep around the tarp to watch Matrisciano in action. From his tone, I could tell he was pushing one of the players to give him more, but I couldn't tell which one he was yelling at.

"Is that Frank yelling?" I asked senior guard Preston Laird as he walked past me.

"I'm not saying anything," Laird answered, smiling.


As I made my way out of the Finch Center, I passed by the partition and looked at the players working out with a middle-aged man in a vest jacket and shorts. "That must be Frank!" I thought to myself. "It's gotta be." I looked up and spotted a worn out Ferrakohn Hall watching from the second level of the Finch. I asked Hall, "Is that him? Is that Frank?" Hall smiled and shrugged his shoulders.

What we do know is that Matrisciano is effective. He's worked with such players as Griffin and Gilbert Arenas and developed a cult following that has resulted in a gig with Pastner.

Already, it's paying dividends for Memphis, as Smith reports that freshman Adonis Thomas, ESPNU's ninth-ranked recruit in the nation has put on a tremendous amount of muscle.
Having spent the last two-and-a-half weeks getting accustomed to college-level coaching and conditioning, University of Memphis freshman Adonis Thomas stood before the media Tuesday, his arms and chest bulging underneath his white T-shirt.

During his senior year at Melrose High, the PARADE and McDonald's All-American weighed about 205 pounds.

Fast forward to now, with the Tigers in the midst of individual workouts and following a summer in which he trained regularly with first-year strength and conditioning coach Frank Matrisciano, and the 6-7 Thomas is a much thicker 230 pounds.

The results of Matrisciano's work can be found in the muscles of Memphis players. The resulting smile from him apparently won't be seen.

Video: Top freshman small forwards

July, 14, 2011

ESPN Recruiting analyst Paul Biancardi takes a look at the top small forwards entering college for the 2011-12 season.

Josh Pastner camped out for top recruit

November, 10, 2010
As national letters of intent come in through the fax machines today, Memphis is set to announce the signing of the Greek god of this year's recruiting class.

Adonis Thomas is ESPNU's No. 2-ranked small forward in the nation, and he's decided to play for his hometown team.

One reason? Memphis coach Josh Pastner, one of the nation's top recruiters who's developed a reputation for his hustle.

And for one of the better anecdotes from the recruiting trail this year, The Commercial Appeal tells of just how badly Pastner wanted Thomas.
Tigers coach Josh Pastner got Thomas' mother, Sandra Anderson, and his father, Eric Thomas, to agree to a 12 a.m. in-home visit from Pastner and assistants Jack Murphy and Willis Wilson on Thursday at Anderson's house.

The significance of 12 a.m.? Thursday was the first day of the contact period for NCAA college coaches, and Pastner wanted to be the first one through Thomas' door this morning.

"He wanted to be the first one, you know, because Adonis is first priority," Eric Thomas said. "He said at 12:01, he'd be there and that he wanted to be there. Me and his mom said, 'OK.' He said he was going to be there and they were there."

Memphis uses video pitch on recruit

October, 18, 2010
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.
Last week, two of Tennessee's verbal commitments for the class of 2011 did Bruce Pearl a solid. Kevin Ware and Chris Jones told a local newspaper that they'd still be coming to Tennessee. They didn't mince words, either. Ware said "of course" he was staying, that he considered Tennessee basketball a "family;" Jones told reporters that his relationship with Pearl was "strong."

That was a good sign for Pearl going forward. After all, the last thing the coach needs as he faces down the threat of termination is a recruiting exodus. But Tennessee has more than Ware and Jones to worry about. Perhaps most important is top recruit Adonis Thomas.

Thomas, the No. 9 overall player in the class of 2011, was still considering Tennessee when he visited on Sept. 11-12. His timing, however, couldn't have been worse. Thomas' visit took place just a day after Pearl tearfully admitted to misleading NCAA investigators; had he been there a day earlier, he could have watched the sordid spectacle from a front row seat. One doubts that's the kind of recruiting visit Thomas had in mind.

But will it affect his decision? Apparently it will, even if Thomas isn't ready to rule out the Vols just yet. From Adam Zagoria (who had this on Sept. 15, but yours truly has been a little under the weather lately, so bear with me):
“I’m still considering them but like anyone that will always be a problem,” the 6-foot-6, 215-pound Memphis native ranked as the No. 6 small forward in the Class of 2011 said Wednesday by phone following an official visit to Tennessee last weekend.

“You don’t want to go to a school that takes the [NCAA] tournament away from you. You go to school to play in the tournament. You’re playing for nothing [if there's no tournament]. That’s a big thing but I’m still considering them. They’re still one of the schools on my list.”

Good news and bad news, then. The good news is that Thomas hasn't written off the Volunteers completely. The bad news is that he's already considered the possibility that his school of choice might not make the NCAA tournament, and recruiting kryptonite doesn't come in a much more distilled form than that. The mere notion of a postseason ban -- whether realistic in this case or not -- is enough to send top prospects running from your program faster than if you told them they had to stay for all four years.

If Thomas is worried about that, it's hard to see him standing by Pearl. Perhaps more importantly, that's an idea Pearl needs to squash immediately if he wants to have any chance of building competitive recruiting classes throughout his current mess. It's not an enviable challenge, that's for sure.
There will be a host of consequences from Tennessee's Friday revelations. The NCAA will weigh in. The Volunteers will, at some point, have to do even more damage control. There will be other news conferences.

In the meantime, the immediate consequence of Tennessee's self-imposed penalties will be Bruce Pearl's sudden inability to recruit away from Knoxville, Tenn., for 12 months. That ban, mixed with the sudden and overwhelming worry about phone call quantity, will make for a very difficult recruiting situation at a time when Pearl was establishing -- whether legally or not -- one of the most consistent talent-mining operations in all of college basketball.

There is also the worry about incoming recruits. Would they stick around? Or would they see any impending NCAA crackdown as a reason to re-open their recruitment and get out of dodge?

Here's where the good news part starts: It appears those recruits are going to stay. Two 2011 commits have, um, committed again. Kevin Ware and Chris Jones told the Knoxville News-Sentinel they're staying at Tennessee, and they did so in no uncertain terms:
"Of course I am [staying],'' said guard Kevin Ware of Rockdale County High in Conyers, Ga., who arrived in Knoxville for his official visit Friday, hours after UT announced multiple self-imposed penalties to the men's basketball program after receiving a letter of inquiry from the NCAA. "I know what kind of person Coach Pearl is, and Tennessee is a family to me -- it's not just basketball.''

"I'm still with Tennessee, and it doesn't affect me in any way,'' Jones said. "My relationship with the coaching staff is strong.''

Ware and Jones would be important to Pearl's 2011 class even if they weren't his only recruits, as both are ranked in the ESPNU 100. Their re-commitment, as it were, is a major win for Pearl, as he looks to assure other recruits that their potential UT decisions are going to come back to haunt them. See? These guys are already committed! Nothing to see here, fellas! Etc.

Pearl will have to do that without the ability to make house calls. He'll also have to hope the timing of his announcement doesn't scare away Adonis Thomas, who was on campus for an official visit this weekend. This is as good a start to that process as most Vol fans could probably have imagined. At least for now.