Tubby Smith held a post-season press conference Tuesday to discuss the Tigers’ performance this season and where the program is heading.
The Tigers (19-13, 9-9 AAC) missed out on post-season play for the third consecutive season. This was Smith’s first season with the Tigers after three seasons at Texas Tech.
“This season has been a learning experience,” Smith said. “It’s always tough for players to adapt and adjust to a new staff ... We knew it was going to be a learning curve not just for our players, but for us as well.”
Since the end of the Tigers’ season, Craig Randall II and Chad Rykhoek have announced they will transfer. There are talks of other possible transfers, including Markel Crawford, but Smith is optimistic they will return.
“Markel, he’s probably the veteran guy in the group,” Smith said. “We called on him to do a lot this year. He was the target of all of our opponents … (if he stays) I think it will be beneficial to us. I think it will benefit him.”
He named Crawford and the Lawson brothers (Dedric and K.J.) as the players that have “the toughness you have to have to be a championship program.”
While Tubby expects many of his players to return, Dedric has yet to make a decision. Last season he went through the NBA Combine process and received feedback from scouts, but he ultimately decided to return.
“I’d love to have him back,” Smith said. “You just can’t replace a guy like Dedric. Does that set us back? To some degree, but it is a great opportunity for others to step up.”
Smith said he thinks Dedric is a “long-term NBA player,” but that he has some things to work on.
With the open scholarships left by seniors and transfers, Tubby has been recruiting since the Tiger’s season ended. Signing day is April 12, but three players have already signed to play for Memphis next year.
Smith and the coaching staff have been targeting junior college players because they have more experience and can play immediately. Smith has been flying across the country to find players to enhance the program.
“If we’re involved with a kid, we know he can play at this level, and we’re involved with a lot of junior college kids,” Smith said. “We are looking for guys that will fit our system — our style of play.”
Along with new recruits, Smith expects Karim Sameh Azab to be eligible to play next season. The 6-11 forward was forced to sit out last season because the NCAA did not clear him to play.
“He’s really put on a lot of bulk. He’s probably one of the most dedicated players I have ever been around,” Smith said. “He’s at the Finch Center everyday and every night. He is working out twice a day. It goes to show if you’re committed you can prosper and you can grow. He’ll be a major asset next year.”
Smith, who has taken each team he has coached to the NCAA Tournament, expects to turn Memphis into a top program in the upcoming years.
“I know another year or two, this team and where we will be, we expect to be playing this time of the year,” Smith said. “We have got to let people know how energized we are and how excited we are going forward. It’s up to me to lead the way.”
Tubby Smith talks to the media during a post-season press conference. Smith led the team to 19 wins in his first season at Memphis.