July 16, 2009

Memphis Mailbag with John Martin

July isn't the most action-packed time of the year in college basketball. In fact, it's largely known as the "dead period."

However, not for new Memphis coach, Josh Pastner.

Josh Pastner was on the ball last week at the LeBron James Skills Camp in Ohio scouting current and future prospects.

Pastner will now head to the Nike Peach Jam in Augusta, Georgia to do virtually the same thing; Paz recruits tirelessly.

When does the man sleep?


From sources close to the situation, Latavious Williams and his family are confident that he will be cleared to play for the Tigers next season.

This sentiment has been expressed since Williams signed with the Tigers back in late April.

Williams is filing the paperwork and going through the motions, along with attending summer school which just ended last week.


Although it's never over until it's over for Josh Pastner, recruiting players for this season looks to be at an apparent end.

Sources indicate that the Tigers have apparently added several highly talented walk-ons for depth: Drew Barham, the 6'6" sharp-shooter from Memphis who originally committed to Southern Illinois; 6'5" combo forward Malik Thomas from Maryland; and, surprisingly enough, 6'3" former Germantown High standout James Michael Harvey.

Barham is a very interesting case for Tiger fans.

He has had the Tiger program close to his heart for many years. However, the former coaching regime never showed the Christian Brothers High star much attention. It soon became very plain to him that he had no prayer of getting a scholarship from the U of M.

So he signed with Southern Illinois.

We have no details at this time as to why he has had a change of heart and returned to his hometown. We do not know who approached whom between Barham and the Pastner coaching staff. We will, of course, provide more information as it becomes available.

What we do know is the young man is a very unique Division I prospect. He is a streaky three-point shooter with good instincts when he needs to finish around the rim. He is long, lean, and in need of some attention from strength coach Richard Hogans.

Barham scored 16 ppg last year with the Brothers. Davidson, Georgia Tech, Ole Miss and Wake Forest were among his suitors.

His situation with Southern Illinois is complicated. Since he has already signed with the Salukis, he must be granted a release in order to be immediately eligible to play for Memphis. If this does not happen, he will have to sit out one season here and then still have four years of eligibility.

If he is eligible right away, he might actually contribute meaningful (though limited) minutes this fall.

Thomas, from Largo High School in Upper Marlboro, MD, is eerily similar to former Tiger Jeff Robinson. He is an undersized power forward, a left-hander, and attacks the rim with reckless abandon. The only real difference in the two is that Thomas is some 30 pounds lighter than Robinson.

Here is his ESPN recruiting evaluation: "This lefty undersized power forward is a good rebounder on both ends of the floor. He is quick to the ball and has a great desire to gain possession. He is tough and physical and competes every second he is on the floor.

"He loves to attack the rim from the high post area where he can finish through contact. He also likes to face the basket and use the quick sweep move to drive the lane. He attacks hard going left and needs to improve his right hand.

"Thomas is limited skills wise and must work on perimeter ball skills to take game to next level. Thomas is a great asset to his team because he plays with heart and hustle."

With his somewhat limited skillset, Thomas is a definite project and will struggle to find the floor for minutes beyond garbage time in blowouts any time soon.

As for Harvey, the son of a Shelby County Commissioner, not a peep of verifiable information has come forth. Having graduated from Germantown several years ago, we have no clue why he would wish to walk-on at Memphis at this time.

We are waiting for word that Harvey is, indeed, on campus and interested in playing basketball for Coach Pastner. If he is, we will try to find out where he's been and why he's back. Again, stay tuned for more details as we receive them.

Elliot Williams and Willie Kemp look to split point guard duties. Willie has ample experience in this field and can provide Elliot Williams with seniority and guidance, while Williams can ignite the Tigers offense with his athleticism, and help anchor defense with his lockdown ability.

Beyond the obvious depth issues at the point, and the fact that using Williams at lead guard dilutes the pool of seasoned wing players, Memphis fans should be comfortable with the situation there.

Look for Kemp, in particular, unleashed from the non-stop profanities and head games of the previous coach, to thrive during his senior season of eligibility.

Doneal Mack and Roburt Sallie are the premier options at shooting guard. Both provide different qualities; Doneal has uncanny athleticism and defense, with streaky shooting, while Roburt provides the Tigers with effortless scoring and intensity.

Regardless of starter, Memphis is in excellent shape at the position, from the standpoints of size, athleticism, experience and raw talent.

The wing, or small forward, is perhaps the most intriguing collection of talent on the team.

Rising sophomore Wesley Witherspoon would get the start while Martin Ngaloro, the Frenchman, would provide length and offense off the bench.

The two are essentially the same player: tall (6'8" or so), long, and highly skilled. WW's experience should prevail; additionally, there were times last season when Witherspoon was the most explosive Tiger not named Tyreke Evans.

If eligible, Latavious Williams would split time at the 4 with Angel Garcia. Garcia, the 6'11" forward who is known to stretch defenses with his shooting ability, redshirted last season after never being cleared to play by the NCAA Clearinghouse.

Williams is a five-star recruit, heralded as a top-20 player out of the 2009 class.

At center, Will Coleman and Pierre Henderson-Niles would be huge presences in the paint and are sure to intimidate some teams.

Coleman, a 6'9", 260-pound freak, has yielded comparisons to Joey Dorsey with a better back-to-the-basket game. PHN provides experience and a wide body with decent offense.

Though this is clearly the weakness of the team, upon Shawn Taggart's defection to the NAB draft and Robert Dozier's exhausting his eligibility, the team's overall length, speed and athleticism should mitigate some of the problems in the post, particularly on the defensive end.

And on a final note, word on the street is that every Memphian's favorite bench player from last year, Preston Laird, has been hitting the weights hard this summer, and should report to camp significantly stronger this fall.

That intriguing piece of news means that the roster's best pure three-point threat and free throw shooter just might be in line for increased minutes during the season. We will see how it all plays out once the rotations are set.

In all likelihood, what follows will be the Tigers' complete 2009-'10 roster. We project 10 scholarship players and four (!) walk-ons, though Three walk-ons could quite likely start for the vast majority of other schools in C-USA (yes, even Tulsa would likely start Barham, he's that solid), with Harvey still being a big question mark:

Will Coleman - 6'9", 260 - Center - Junior

Angel Garcia - 6,11", 210 - Forward - Freshman

Pierre Henderson-Niles - 6'8", 300 - Center - Senior

Willie Kemp - 6'2", 185 - Point - Senior

Doneal Mack - 6'5", 185 - Guard - Senior

Martin Ngaloro - 6'8", 210 - Forward - Freshman

Roburt Sallie - 6'5", 190 - Guard - Junior

Elliot Williams - 6'4", 180 - Guard - Sophomore

Latavious Williams - 6'7", 195 - Forward - Freshman

Wesley Witherspoon - 6'8", 190 - Guard/Fwd - Sophomore


Drew Barham - 6'6", 185 - Guard - Freshman

James Michael Harvey (?) - 6'3" - Guard - Freshman

Preston Laird - 6'2", 180 - Guard - Sophomore

Malik Thomas - 6'5", 195 - Forward - Freshman

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