C-USA: Beale Street Goodbye

By David Scott - October 20, 2006


MEMPHIS – Hang Time has had a few hours to digest the happenings of Conference USA’s 2006 Men’s basketball Media Day – and a few more to digest the scrumptious charcoal ribs at the famous Rendezvous restaurant.

(Yes, Mission: Eat Ribs was a smashing success – thanks for all your email tips and suggestions.)

The lasting impression – aside from a stained dress shirt and the lingering smell of dry rub – is that C-USA is a league with many intriguing possibilities for the 2006-07 season; but also one struggling to gain its identity.


* It’s generally accepted that Memphis is the class of the league and the team that currently carries the banner for C-USA nationally. John Calipari is a “National Coach” in every sense of the term. He recruits nationally, is recognized nationally (witness his frequent “Best Damn Sports Show appearances) and, without questions, has the resources to win a national championship.

But that’s not to say there aren’t other national-level coaches (and programs) among the C-USA dozen. It’s just a matter of the Houstons, UABs and SMUs breaking through and capitalizing on the attention that both Calipari and a trio of new coaches brings to the league that is still transitioning from the Big East’s pillaging that stole schools like Louisville and Cincinnati.

* The dominant theme of the gathering was the new trio of C-USA head men. Both Mike Davis and Matt Doherty acknowledged that they will get recognition and attention for the very fact of where they have been before (Indiana for Davis; notably Notre Dame and North Carolina for Doherty).

Said Doherty: “You have to do a little kick-starting at SMU – the same way I did at Notre Dame. I just hope this is the last one I have to kickstart.”

Davis, too, isn’t looking at his new job as a stepping stone. He’s an Alabama native and a self-described “low-key guy.” He’s not foolish enough to think his new league is on a par with his old one (the Big Ten), but he’s comfortable enough in his own skin to be perfectly content with the position that UAB is in. “It’s a perfect fit for me,” said Davis.

The third new head coach, Tony Barbee, doesn’t quite bring the credentials of Davis and Doherty, but he does have the league experience, having served under his former coach, Calipari. Many in the league believe that UTEP is a sleeping giant – as shown in recent seasons – and that Barbee is just the kind of young, up-and-comer who will help the El Paso school realize that potential.

. . . We’re told, by the way, that UAB has a custom-made travel bus fully loaded with all the bells and whistles to make for easier and more comfortable travel between drivable game-sites. The bus has satellite TVs, oversized reclining seats and table space for eating, studying and team-bonding. Hang Time is looking into procuring a ride on the Davis/UAB Cruiser – a distant cousin of the Madden Cruiser.

* Preseason Player of the Year pick, Morris Almond was among the dining party at the Rendezvous and he began drooling as we entered the alley way leading into the classic joint.

. . . Also among the rib rooters was Houston’s Dion Dowell who was jazzed by the day’s events (both basketball and dining) that he called assistant coach Melvin Haralson after the meal to share his excitement. Dowell said that being at Media Day got him even more excited for the season and he was curious as to how practice went without him and Coach Tom Penders in Houston.

* It’s been a whirlwind for the UTEP folks after the late departure of former coach Doc Sadler to Nebraska. So much so, that the UTEP media guide isn’t quite ready yet (no fault of the outstanding UTEP SID, Jeff Darby) so the preview packet Darby put together is a bit of rush job. But the cover is one that any UMass supporter should be proud of: accompanying a left hand picture of senior guard Kevin Henderson is a right hand shot of Barbee in the foreground, and former Minuteman guard (current Calipari assistant) Derek Kellogg at his side. It won’t be the last time Kellogg finds himself on the cover of a media guide – he’s on his way to a head-coaching gig in the near future as well.

* Tulane presents an interesting case for League Darkhorse (as chosen by Seth Davis during the CSTV Media Slam on Thursday night). Dave Dickerson’s Green Wave returns four starters, eight lettermen and, after the horrific aftereffects of Katrina, a team that absolutely has the rarest form of chemistry.

“We bonded an incredible amount,” said senior swingman Chris Moore. “We all got to know each others families – brothers, sisters, everything. We all came out of the situation as better people. It’s terrible what happened, but we all grew from it and now it’s just great to be back on campus.”

As the city of New Orleans has seen with the NFL’s New Orleans Saints, sports can be a great uniter.

“You learn every day when you go though something like our community went through,” said the second-year head coach, Dickerson. “I was a freshman at the University of Maryland when Len Bias died. That too was a learning experience. All these events help in making you better people.”

“Coach was unbelievable,” said Moore. “It was so hard for everyone but he was so upbeat, so positive throughout.”

“My high school coach told me a long time ago,” said Dickerson. “It’s not the number of games, not the number of rings you win, but it’s the journey. I can lose a ring or a material thing like that. But I can never lose the chance to meet and coach guys like Chris and to lead young people and help them through times like we experienced.”

* How important is Memphis basketball to the city? Put it this way: When Tigers SID, Lamar Chance walked into the Rendezvous on Thursday night, long-time waiter Percy came up to him and gave him a big old hug. “How are you Mr. Lamar?”

Mr. Lamar was just fine, thank you, a few minutes later after woofing down a chicken sandwich.

* Well, our Memphis journey is just about over and we need to thank you for tagging along. We’ll be heading to Las Vegas next week for the Mountain West’s Media Day and CSTV’s Media Slam for that conference, so be sure to check back in and as always, tell two friends about Hang Time.

Until then, Hang loose. . .


Posted by David Scott at 01:05 PM on October 20, 2006
Comments (1)

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I really enjoyed reading your blog. Great job, David.

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