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Fans pack Memphis Madness for a ‘crazyyyyy’ event

07:59 AM ET October 13, 2012

MEMPHIS — They had packed FedExForum for Memphis Madness before each of Josh Pastner’s first three seasons, initially to prove the program is bigger than the previous coach, subsequently thanks to promised performances from hip-hop stars Yo Gotti and Rick Ross.

But this time was going to be different.

There was no message to send John Calipari.

There was no rapper to lure fringe supporters.

So Pastner spent the week on local television and radio promoting and explaining how he’d planned a night to simply celebrate Memphis Basketball, and though he always said he knew 18,000 fans would fill this downtown building, let’s be honest, there was no real way to know. The Avett Brothers were playing two miles away at Mud Island. The St. Louis Cardinals, whose Triple-A affiliate is based in Memphis, were in a must-win game on TV. So there were other things to do and reasons to stay home. And Pastner understood as much, which is why he was glowing after what amounted to little more than an opportunity for fans to see former Tigers, current Tigers and, in some cases, future Tigers.

“Can you believe it?” Pastner said with a smile. “Packed again. And nobody can say we used a gimmick. This wasn’t about an entertainer. This was all about Memphis Basketball.”

And it was all about Memphis basketball on every level.

Memphis prospects like Austin Nichols (2013) and Skal Labissiere (2015) sat courtside not far from Memphis Grizzlies like Zach Randolph, Tony Allen and Tony Wroten while former Tigers like Keith Lee, Penny Hardaway and Elliot Perry interacted with current Tigers like Joe Jackson, Adonis Thomas and Tarik Black. It was a neat scene from start to finish — one elevated by the presence of the Grizzlies but made by the attendance of Lee, the four-time All-American and star of the 1985 Final Four team who has over the decades become something of a recluse even though he still lives in the area and remains the school’s all-time leading scorer.

“People never see Keith but people just love to see him,” Pastner said. “He’s like Michael Jordan here. I tell people that all the time. Keith Lee is like Michael Jordan in this city. I don’t think people outside of the city understand that, but you saw it tonight.”

Pastner’s hope is that some very specific uncommitted local prospects — particularly Nichols, a 6-foot-8 forward ranked 10th nationally by one recruiting service whose late decision to attend Memphis Madness generated lots of buzz this week — also saw it, appreciated it and are eventually swayed to become a part of it. It’s impossible at this point to know whether that hope will become a reality, of course. But it should be noted that Nichols took to Twitter afterward, and he seemed to see the same thing Pastner saw.

“Memphis Madness was crazyyyyy!,” Nichols tweeted. “Loved the fan support!”

Tags: Josh Pastner, Memphis Tigers, NCAAB
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