One step forward, two steps back.
That’s how everyone associated with Memphis Tiger basketball felt last month when former University of Memphis star forward Austin Nichols announced he was transferring to the University of Virginia, via John Martin of the ESPN 92.9 Line.
The timing, given that it was in July, couldn’t have been any worse for Memphis coach Josh Pastner and the Tigers. Nichols’ play last season was one of the few positives from a team that finishetd 18-14, becoming the first Tigers team to miss the postseason since 2000.
He was also named a team captain a few weeks before, making his decision all the more surprising. With another year of experience for the team’s returning players and the additions of the Lawson brothers and transfer guard Ricky Tarrant from Alabama, the Tigers’ were looking to be on the upswing in the coming season.
Nevertheless, the Tigers lost the face of their franchise and his team-leading 13.3 points per game and defensive presence, which improved substantially last season with Nichols finishing top-five in the country in blocks with nearly 3.5 per game. However, the biggest loser of all has to be Pastner.
Widely considered by many to be in a make-or-break year in his seventh season at the helm of the Tiger program, Pastner will have to win big without his most important player from last season. Memphis’ recent reputation of Memphians leaving the program also takes another big hit following former forward Nick King’s departure in March, although King’s transfer resulted from a lack of playing time.
That’s what makes Nichols’ decision even worse. Not to mention Nichols is the seventh player since last summer (King, Dominic Woodson, Dominic Magee, Pookie Powell, Damien Wilson and Kuran Iverson are the others). That should never happen at any college basketball program, much less the University of Memphis.
The fact that being the best player at the University of Memphis wasn’t good enough for Nichols, and he is willing to sacrifice a year of playing basketball to transfer to the University of Virginia shows how bad things have gotten for the U of M basketball program in the past 12 months. After that 18-14 finish last season, the Tigers seemed to hit rock bottom. Now without Nichols, Memphis may very well sink even lower in the 2015-16 season.