When four Conference USA schools decided last November to go to the Big East — Cincinnati, Louisville, Marquette and DePaul — there were rumors that it would lead to the demise of the Memphis basketball program.
Memphis remains in C-USA, and the Tigers arguably will be the marquee basketball team in the conference next school year when the new Big East and new C-USA actually tip off.
Hey, you couldn't tell Memphis coach John Calipari that his program is on the decline. I remember seeing him at Madison Square Garden last year, and he told me that his program would survive and do just fine.
Memphis has handled the blow in the recruiting wars. After all, losing those four schools meant questions about claiming that your schedule included the créme de la créme. But Calipari has gone out and put together a blue-chip recruiting class.
Calipari said that the C-USA defections have not affected his recruiting at all. He said his program is first-class, and the class of 2005 wants to join a group that came in this season, led by guard Darius Washington.
Among those who have verbally committed to Memphis are a pair of guards, Antonio Anderson and Chris Douglas-Roberts. Up front, the Tigers have verbal commitments from Ricky Sanchez, Shawne Williams and Robert Dozier.
In the past, Calipari has had players like Kendrick Perkins and Qyntel Woods commit but never show up because they jumped straight to the NBA. Calipari feels this class will be there.
At Memphis, the beat goes on. One of the key reasons is Calipari's leadership, and his enthusiasm becomes contagious to everyone around. Memphis fans can enjoy a new building and the fans will respond in big numbers — they love their hoops!
Calipari is making a believer out of me. I have to be honest, I had my doubts when those schools opted out. But this coach makes you believe in the excitement of the Tigers.
Dick Vitale coached the Pistons and the University of Detroit before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in December 1979. Send him a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.