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September 24, 2013

Men's basketball Media Day

Before the question was even completed, head coach Josh Pastner quickly made it clear at the Memphis Tigers Media Day on Monday that there will be an open competition for the starting five spots for the team's first season in the American Athletic Conference. The question got as far as "Do you have any idea," before Pastner butted in.

"Zero. Zero. All (the starting spots) are up for grabs."

Though the Tigers return several key players from last year's 31-5 team, fall practices, which start Oct. 3, will be filled with a healthy competition, as a highly touted group of freshmen, transfers and returnees work to earn a place in the starting lineup.

Among the many stories to follow leading up to the season that headlined Media Day, one had visuals. News came out at the end of summer that sophomore Shaq Goodwin had lost 40 pounds, which was accurate. Goodwin looked like a whole new man.

Last season, he said he ate McDonald's just about every day. But, that has changed. Goodwin is staying away from the fast food and is down to a muscular and chiseled 230-pounder.

"I sat down with my core group of friends, three other guys, and I told them this is what I want to do for this upcoming season," he said. "I want to be in shape and available for anything coach (Pastner) needs me for and to do that, I have to be in shape, so I got myself in shape."

Goodwin will battle senior George Washington transfer David Pellom and freshmen Austin Nichols and Dominic Woodson for a starting role and minutes. Nichols, a five-star prospect and the No. 17 overall prospect in the class of 2013, unlike Goodwin, has been adding weight.

That isn't from getting Big Macs from McDonald's either. He is listed at 212 pounds on the roster, but said he's added 13 pounds of muscle.

"I'm about 225 right now, so I've added around 12 to 13 pounds."

One of the biggest strengths for Memphis heading into the season is their depth and talent level at the guard position. With a slew of players in the backcourt, including seniors Chris Crawford, Michael Dixon, Joe Jackson and Geron Johnson, the Tigers will have plenty of bodies to rotate in and out every game without missing a beat.

At his press conference regarding Missouri transfer Dixon being granted eligibility, Pastner discussed the possibility of playing a four-guard lineup at times. He expanded on that further at the team's Media Day.

"There's going to be times when we play the four guards, that's just the facts. But, we're going to play to win. Like I've been saying, we're going have to play multiple guys because of our guys and in order to do that, we're going to have to press."

Dixon, who went through a whirlwind in the last year, is expected to be a huge part of the Tigers backcourt. The former Big XII Sixth Man of the Year and All-Defensive team pick was kicked off Missouri's team after his second sexual assault accusation. Though he was never charged, Missouri elected to avoid the negative publicity and part ways.

Pastner is known for taking in troubled guys and leading them in the right direction. Just look at Johnson, who was considered a high risk, but has turned his life around for the better. Dixon, more than anything, is thankful that it is all behind him and he can now focus on helping Memphis have a big year.

"It's been great man. It's just a relief to know that I'm going to be a part of this team for the rest of the season. I'm just glad to be here and blessed and just really excited. It's my last year to play college basketball and I want to make it a great one. I don't think we have a ceiling really. We got a lot of young guys that are talented and it's our job as seniors to bring them along the way. I think we can do some special things this year."

Last year, there was similar talk about how good the team could be. There was talk of being a top-10 team and making a run to the Final Four. However, Pastner said he just wants his team to focus on doing it, not saying it.

"I'm a big believer in actions and production more than talking. I think it was an opportunity for them to learn that let's do the talking after the production is there. Predictions and preseason acknowledgments, it's good for the program, but it doesn't win you games."

The Tigers first official game is on Nov. 14 against Austin Peay. Until then, key dates for Memphis include the start of fall practice (Oct. 3), Memphis Madness (Oct. 18) and a scrimmage verse Christian Brothers (Nov. 8).


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