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October 19, 2013

Memphis Madness

Once one of the most hated men in Memphis, former Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl walked out of the tunnel to a raucous crowd of Tiger fans booing him. The pot boiled over when he took his jacket off, revealing orange suspenders underneath. However, Memphis head coach Josh Pastner walked across the court with a black and blue Tigers jacket and placed it on him, turning those boos into cheers.

"I thought coach Pearl wearing the Memphis warm up was just fantastic," Josh Pastner said. "I mean to get a Tennessee person to switch from Orange to blue? That's one of eight wonders of the world."

It was just one of the few sights to see Friday night at the program's annual Memphis Madness at FedExForum. Fans got to see the 2013-14 Tigers team for the first time and as usual, there was a large turnout.

Pastner always talks about how he's able to recruit such good players because of the enormous fan support. Whether it's mid-season or the middle of July, the city of Memphis is revolving around basketball.

"It's a packed crowd and this is my fifth year here and doing this at this level is just magnificent," Pastner said. "All credit has to go to Tiger nation who once again came out in support. (The fans) make recruiting the reason we're able to get the best players in the country."

One of the big reasons fans always come out is to see the freshmen for the first time. Memphis' 2013 class was ranked No. 3 and Friday night offered a chance to see them. The heralded class includes Markel Crawford, Kuran Iverson, Nick King, Austin Nichols and Dominic Woodson.

Nichols attended last year's Memphis Madness as a visitor, but this year as one of the main attractions, he said it was even better.

"Last year it was great, the students chanting my name and everything, but to actually be a part of it makes it that much better. I made a great decision to come to Memphis for sure."

The Tigers held a dunk contest to start things off, followed by a team scrimmage. After the first round, sophomores Shaq Goodwin and Damien Wilson moved on to the finals, where Goodwin bested his teammate to win a $750 gift card to City Gear.

Pastner let the guys play loosely in the scrimmage, meaning there was no defense whatsoever. It's more of a show for the fans than a scrimmage. There were tons of lobs, long three-point shots and highlight-reel dunks. What the night is really big for though is recruiting.

There were several recruits in attendance, including top 2014 recruits Cliff Alexander and Jaquan Lyle. It was a good night for an electric atmosphere and senior guard Michael Dixon said it should make their decisions a no-brainer.

"If I was a recruit, I would think how could I not come here? Just the turnout for a scrimmage and a dunk contest, not even a game or live competition. I just feel like that kind of support in a place like this is just a place you should be able to yourself going to school at. A lot of pros come through here and a lot of high school guys want to go to the NBA, so it's a dream school I think."

It has no significance as far as the season is concerned, but it's always a great event for the fans and for recruits to experience. Every year, Memphis Madness gets bigger and this year topped them all. The good news for Memphis though is that they have a year to do it even bigger in 2014.

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