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Two storylines for the Tiger’s basketball season

<p>Jimario Rivers pulls up for a jump shot. Rivers played at Southwest Tennessee CC before transferring to Memphis.</p>
Jimario Rivers pulls up for a jump shot. Rivers played at Southwest Tennessee CC before transferring to Memphis.

The University of Memphis men’s basketball team opens up their 2017-18 season Thursday with an exhibition against LeMoyne-Owen College. The Tigers were picked to finish ninth in the American Athletic Conference Coach’s Poll and have a new-look team this season.

            Head coach Tubby Smith returned five players from the 2016-17 team that finished the season with a 19-13 record. Smith signed five freshmen in the offseason to go along with his six junior college transfers.

Production from first-year players

            The 11 players signed will surround the team with questions. Four of the five freshmen are guards, and five of the six junior college transfers play in the backcourt. With only two returning starters, Memphis will be forced to rely on newcomers.

            Junior transfers Kareem Brewton Jr. from Eastern Florida State and Malik Rhodes from Barton Community College are set to begin their Division 1 careers and could make an early impact.

            The National Junior College Athletic Association named Brewton to the All-American First Team for his play last season. Brewton has the ability to fill a scoring role for the Tigers. The combo guard scored in double-figures 33 times during the 2016-17 season. He led his team to the NJCAA National Championship and scored the third most points in the NJCAA last season.

            Smith signed Rhodes to add depth to the point guard position and back up Martin. Last season, the lack of depth forced Martin to play 34.8 minutes per game.

            Freshman guard Jamal Johnson will also add depth to the Tigers’ backcourt. Johnson displayed his scoring ability in a closed scrimmage against North Carolina earlier this month. The 6-foot-4 guard “impressed†Smith with his outside shooting and scored 11 points against the Tar Heels, tied for the team-high.

            Junior transfer Kyvon Davenport also showed his worth to the team in the scrimmage against UNC. The forward finished the game with 11 points and nine rebounds. The First Team Junior College All-American will look to improve a depleted Memphis frontcourt that struggled to rebound last season.

            Junior Raynere Thornton will look to aid the Tigers on the boards this year. Thornton averaged a double-double last season with Gordon State, averaging 10.9 points and 11.4 rebounds. The 6-foot-7 forward picked up seven rebounds in the Tiger’s scrimmage against UNC. Thornton is versatile and could compete for the starting forward spot.

            Memphis returned sophomore big-man Karim Sameh Azab, who did not play last season. Azab is currently injured and will not be available for the first part of the season. The forward’s 6-foot-11 frame will add size to the Tiger’s frontcourt once he returns to action.


Jeremiah Martin pushes the ball up the court to start the fast break. Martin led the team in steals last season with 1.8 per game.

Martin and Rivers

            Leadership will be crucial on this team, which is mostly comprised of players who have yet to play a full season at the NCAA level. Martin and Rivers are the only two players on the team who received significant playing time last season.

Martin played a leadership role as a point guard on last year’s team, but his leadership role will increase this year. Martin was the fourth leading scoring with 10.3 points and was the assist leader with 4.4 assists per game.

            Rivers transferred to Memphis before last season from Southwest Tennessee Community College, which will help junior college transfers transition to this level. Injuries and lack of depth forced Rivers to play out of position as a center. The newcomers and Azab will dictate where Rivers plays this season.

The Tigers will need a leader to help guide them through a season in which they play three preseason top-25 teams. They face No. 25 Alabama to open regular season play Nov. 10, No. 16 Louisville in the Gotham Classic Dec. 16 and No.8 Wichita State at home Feb. 6.

Jimario Rivers pulls up for a jump shot. Rivers played at Southwest Tennessee CC before transferring to Memphis.

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