The story in Memphis isn’t Austin Nichols’ transfer, it’s if we’ve already seen Peak Pastner

Josh Pastner (AP Photo)

Here’s what we know about Austin Nichols’ decision to request a release to transfer out of the Memphis program: He has asked to leave and the powers that be at Memphis, including head coach Josh Pastner, have decided against granting him a release.

Beyond that, rumors run deeper than details.

Is Nichols upset with the way that he’s developed under Pastner’s tutelage the last two seasons? Is he sick of losing and convinced things aren’t going to change in the near-future? Is he bothered having watched Duke, who Nichols passed on coming out of high school, win a national title while sending three guys to the first round of the draft? Is he worried about playing time if Memphis turns to ‘Daddy Ball’ with the Lawson brothers coming into the program? Is his dad the one pushing him to make this decision? Did Nichols just break up with his girlfriend?

Is it all of the above?

Perhaps the more relevant point of discussion here is whether he would be able to get that release through a simple sitdown with the coaching staff — something that, according to Pastner, has not yet happened — because in the end, that’s the big-picture issue here. A coach with a multi-million dollar contract denying an amateur student-athlete a transfer release, forcing the kid to play tuition during his mandatory redshirt season.

That’s shameful.

It’s inherently wrong.

And if Pastner doesn’t change his mind eventually, he’ll rightfully get ripped. But his anger — and his desire for vengeance, which is what this is — is also understandable. Losing a kid to a transfer in March is one thing. Having them decide to leave in July is entirely different. Learning about the transfer via an email from the kid’s dad? Yeah. I’d be mad, too.

Austin Nichols (AP Photo)

But at the end of the day, what we’re talking about is the Nichols family being forced to pay tuition at their new school for one year, a year he’s going to have to redshirt regardless of whether or not he gets a release. It’s a significant financial hit, but one that can be supplemented by student loans, generous financial aid packages and perhaps even a rogue booster or two. Considering Nichols’ future probably holds a significant professional basketball career, I have a feeling he’ll end up just fine either way.

To me, the most significant part of this decision by Nichols is the negative light that is once again being shined on Pastner’s program. Nichols was the leading scorer and second-leading rebounder for the Tigers in addition to being one of the best shot-blockers in the country, and he’s leaving a team that went 18-14 overall and 10-8 in the thoroughly mediocre American last year.

Adding Alabama transfer Ricky Tarrant should help solidify the point guard spot, and a freshmen class that includes Dedric Lawson, K.J. Lawson and Nick Marshall should provide Pastner with plenty of front court depth, but what about this roster is intimidating? Shaq Goodwin regressed last season and Tarrant averaged 2.0 assists for a team that went 8-10 in the SEC in 2014-15.

In other words, it’s very possible that Memphis ends up missing their second straight NIT in 2015-16.

It would be one thing if these issues were cyclical. Billy Donovan went to two straight NITs with Florida after Joakim Noah, Corey Brewer and Al Horford went to the NBA. They also won back-to-back national titles. Kentucky went to the NIT in 2013, the outlier in a four-year run that included a national title and three Final Fours. UConn missed the tournament in 2007, 2010 and 2013. They also won national titles in 2004, 2011 and 2014, reaching another Final Four in 2009.


He has the same number of NCAA tournament wins — two in six seasons — as years that his teams have missed the tournament altogether.

But it gets worse.

Nichols is the fifth member of Pastner’s loaded, six-man 2013 recruiting class that has transferred. Nick King, a former top 50 recruit, transferred out in March. Kuran Iverson, another former top 50 prospect, left in the middle of the 2014-15 season. Dominic Woodson was a top 100 recruit that lasted a year before he was shown the door. Pookie Powell nearly transferred after his freshman season before leaving this spring. The only kid left is Markel Crawford, who saw less playing time than overweight and out of shape Kedren Johnson and Southeastern Louisiana transfer Avery Crawford.

Now to be fair, not all of those transfers are a bad thing. Sometimes showing a knucklehead the door is addition by subtraction, but that doesn’t change the fact that there was ‘subtraction’ in the first place. What made Fred Hoiberg great at the college level is that he brought in knuckleheads and got them to buy into his system, to play hard and play to win. Royce White has played one season of basketball since graduating high school in 2009, and Hoiberg made him an all-american and a first round pick in the 2012 draft that season.

Woodson seemingly spent his entire Memphis career suspended. Iverson transferred about a week after ripping his coach on twitter. He, too, was suspended at the time.

Perhaps the most frustrating part of this entire soap opera is that Memphis seemingly turned a corner during the 2013-14 season. Pastner not only won a game against a top 25 team for the first time in his career, he did it in a rematch against a Marcus Smart-led Oklahoma State team that had just beaten the Tigers by 21 points 12 days earlier, a loss that convinced just about every fan in the city to call for his job. He’d eventually go on to win five games against top 25 opponents that season — including a sweep of Louisville — and eventually won a game in the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive season.

It was the first season that Memphis was a member of the American Athletic Conference, making it unequivocally the best season in his tenure with the Tigers.

That season — and that win over Oklahoma State — was supposed to change the narrative for these Tigers.

And it did, but what if it wasn’t a sign of which way Pastner’s program was trending?

What if that was Peak Pastner?

And in a city that cares as much about their college basketball as Memphis does — a city that got used to the success of John Calipari, Pastner’s predecessor — how much longer will Peak Pastner be acceptable?

Biden celebrates LSU women’s and UConn men’s basketball teams at separate White House events


WASHINGTON – All of the past drama and sore feelings associated with Louisiana State’s invitation to the White House were seemingly forgotten or set aside Friday as President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden welcomed the championship women’s basketball team to the mansion with smiles, hugs and lavish praise all around.

The visit had once appeared in jeopardy after Jill Biden suggested that the losing Iowa team be invited, too. But none of that was mentioned as both Bidens heralded the players for their performance and the way they have helped advance women’s sports.

“Folks, we witnessed history,” the president said. “In this team, we saw hope, we saw pride and we saw purpose. It matters.”

The ceremony was halted for about 10 minutes after forward Sa’Myah Smith appeared to collapse as she and her teammates stood behind Biden. A wheelchair was brought in and coach Kim Mulkey assured the audience that Smith was fine.

LSU said in a statement that Smith felt overheated, nauseous and thought she might faint. She was evaluated by LSU and White House medical staff and was later able to rejoin the team. “She is feeling well, in good spirits, and will undergo further evaluation once back in Baton Rouge,” the LSU statement said.

Since the passage of Title IX in 1972, Biden said, more than half of all college students are women, and there are now 10 times more female athletes in college and high school. He said most sports stories are still about men, and that that needs to change.

Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sex in federally funded education programs and activities.

“Folks, we need to support women sports, not just during the championship run but during the entire year,” President Biden said.

After the Tigers beat Iowa for the NCAA title in April in a game the first lady attended, she caused an uproar by suggesting that the Hawkeyes also come to the White House.

LSU star Angel Reese called the idea “A JOKE” and said she would prefer to visit with former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, instead. The LSU team largely is Black, while Iowa’s top player, Caitlin Clark, is white, as are most of her teammates.

Nothing came of Jill Biden’s idea and the White House only invited the Tigers. Reese ultimately said she would not skip the White House visit. She and co-captain Emily Ward presented team jerseys bearing the number “46” to Biden and the first lady. Hugs were exchanged.

Jill Biden also lavished praise on the team, saying the players showed “what it means to be a champion.”

“In this room, I see the absolute best of the best,” she said, adding that watching them play was “pure magic.”

“Every basket was pure joy and I kept thinking about how far women’s sports have come,” the first lady added, noting that she grew up before Title IX was passed. “We’ve made so much progress and we still have so much more work to do.”

The president added that “the way in which women’s sports has come along is just incredible. It’s really neat to see, since I’ve got four granddaughters.”

After Smith was helped to a wheelchair, Mulkey told the audience the player was OK.

“As you can see, we leave our mark where we go,” Mulkey joked. “Sa’Myah is fine. She’s kind of, right now, embarrassed.”

A few members of Congress and Biden aides past and present with Louisiana roots dropped what they were doing to attend the East Room event, including White House budget director Shalanda Young. Young is in the thick of negotiations with House Republicans to reach a deal by the middle of next week to stave off what would be a globally calamitous U.S. financial default if the U.S. can no longer borrow the money it needs to pay its bills.

The president, who wore a necktie in the shade of LSU’s purple, said Young, who grew up in Baton Rouge, told him, “I’m leaving the talks to be here.” Rep. Garret Graves, one of the House GOP negotiators, also attended.

Biden closed sports Friday by changing to a blue tie and welcoming the UConn’s men’s championship team for its own celebration. The Huskies won their fifth national title by defeating San Diego State, 76-59, in April.

“Congratulations to the whole UConn nation,” he said.

Marquette’s Prosper says he will stay in draft rather than returning to school

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

MILWAUKEE — Olivier-Maxence Prosper announced he is keeping his name under NBA draft consideration rather than returning to Marquette.

The 6-foot-8 forward announced his decision.

“Thank you Marquette nation, my coaches, my teammates and support staff for embracing me from day one,” Prosper said in an Instagram post. “My time at Marquette has been incredible. With that being said, I will remain in the 2023 NBA Draft. I’m excited for what comes next. On to the next chapter…”

Prosper had announced last month he was entering the draft. He still could have returned to school and maintained his college eligibility by withdrawing from the draft by May 31. Prosper’s announcement indicates he instead is going ahead with his plans to turn pro.

Prosper averaged 12.5 points and 4.7 rebounds last season while helping Marquette go 29-7 and win the Big East’s regular-season and tournament titles. Marquette’s season ended with a 69-60 loss to Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament’s round of 32.

He played two seasons at Marquette after transferring from Clemson, where he spent one season.

Kansas’ Kevin McCullar Jr. returning for last season of eligibility

kansas mccullar
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Kevin McCullar Jr. said that he will return to Kansas for his final year of eligibility, likely rounding out a roster that could make the Jayhawks the preseason No. 1 next season.

McCullar transferred from Texas Tech to Kansas for last season, when he started 33 of 34 games and averaged 10.7 points and 7.0 rebounds. He was also among the nation’s leaders in steals, and along with being selected to the Big 12’s all-defensive team, the 6-foot-6 forward was a semifinalist for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year award.

“To be able to play in front of the best fans in the country; to play for the best coach in the nation, I truly believe we have the pieces to hang another banner in the Phog,” McCullar said in announcing his return.

Along with McCullar, the Jayhawks return starters Dajuan Harris Jr. and K.J. Adams from a team that went 28–8, won the Big 12 regular-season title and was a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, where it lost to Arkansas in the second round.

Perhaps more importantly, the Jayhawks landed Michigan transfer Hunter Dickinson, widely considered the best player in the portal, to anchor a lineup that was missing a true big man. They also grabbed former five-star prospect Arterio Morris, who left Texas, and Towson’s Nick Timberlake, who emerged last season as one of the best 3-point shooters in the country.

The Jayhawks also have an elite recruiting class arriving that is headlined by five-star recruit Elmarko Jackson.

McCullar declared for the draft but, after getting feedback from scouts, decided to return. He was a redshirt senior last season, but he has another year of eligibility because part of his career was played during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is a big day for Kansas basketball,” Jayhawks coach Bill Self said. “Kevin is not only a terrific player but a terrific teammate. He fit in so well in year one and we’re excited about what he’ll do with our program from a leadership standpoint.”

Clemson leading scorer Hall withdraws from NBA draft, returns to Tigers

clemson pj hall
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CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson leading scorer PJ Hall is returning to college after withdrawing from the NBA draft on Thursday.

The 6-foot-10 forward took part in the NBA combine and posted his decision to put off the pros on social media.

Hall led the Tigers with 15.3 points per game this past season. He also led the Tigers with 37 blocks, along with 5.7 rebounds. Hall helped Clemson finish third in the Atlantic Coast Conference while posting a program-record 14 league wins.

Clemson coach Brad Brownell said Hall gained experience from going through the NBA’s combine that will help the team next season. “I’m counting on him and others to help lead a very talented group,” he said.

Hall was named to the all-ACC third team last season as the Tigers went 23-10.

George Washington adopts new name ‘Revolutionaries’ to replace ‘Colonials’

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WASHINGTON — George Washington University’s sports teams will now be known as the Revolutionaries, the school announced.

Revolutionaries replaces Colonials, which had been GW’s name since 1926. Officials made the decision last year to drop the old name after determining it no longer unified the community.

GW said 8,000 different names were suggested and 47,000 points of feedback made during the 12-month process. Revolutionaries won out over the other final choices of Ambassadors, Blue Fog and Sentinels.

“I am very grateful for the active engagement of our community throughout the development of the new moniker,” president Mark S. Wrighton said. “This process was truly driven by our students, faculty, staff and alumni, and the result is a moniker that broadly reflects our community – and our distinguished and distinguishable GW spirit.”

George the mascot will stay and a new logo developed soon for the Revolutionaries name that takes effect for the 2023-24 school year. The university is part of the Atlantic 10 Conference.