Memphis had high expectations entering this season, but after just one game, it’s already dealing with its share of adversity.
Two days after announcing Jelan Kendrick had been dropped from the team, the No. 19 Tigers will have to put several distracting incidents behind them as they host Miami on Monday.
Memphis came into this season with a promising recruiting class and hopes of another NCAA tournament run after finishing runner-up in 2009.
While several key returnees were one reason for the increased expectations, the Tigers also were counting on a talented freshman class led by Kendrick, a McDonald’s All-American guard, and Will Barton.
However, coach Josh Pastner announced Saturday that Kendrick, who was a top 10 prospect, is no longer with the program. The 6-foot-6 guard from Atlanta missed two weeks of preseason practice for “personal reasons” and had just been reinstated Nov. 4.
“After meeting with Jelan today, we decided it was best that we part ways,” said Pastner. “We are grateful and thankful for his time with the Memphis program, and we wish him all the best.”
Kendrick was just one problem Pastner, in his second year as coach of the Tigers, has had to deal with early in the season. Barton was initially ruled academically ineligible by the NCAA before Memphis successfully appealed to overturn that decision in April.
Then, Chris Crawford didn’t start in a 104-40 win over Centenary on Friday night because of an academic issue, and junior Wesley Witherspoon was benched until the second half because he was late for a team meeting.
“My big thing is there are consequences for actions,” Pastner said. “I’m a big believer in that.”
None of that proved to be a distraction in the opener. Crawford hit all six shots from the field, including four 3-pointers, to finish with 16 points. Antonio Barton had 17 points to lead the Tigers, who shot 55 percent and went 14 of 27 from 3-point range.
While Memphis led by as many as 65 points, the Tigers expect to get a much tougher test from Miami, which opened its season with an 89-77 win over Jacksonville on Friday.
“We have a tough game Monday. Miami is a good team,” Pastner said. “They’re a top-four team in the ACC and a potential NCAA tournament team. They are really, really good. They have guys in the backcourt. They’re athletic. This will be a great test for us.”
The Hurricanes started 15-1 in 2009-10, but finished last in the ACC after going 5-12 down the stretch.
Still, they are optimistic about improving. Miami had 10 different players start at least four games last season and seven of them return. Durand Scott, the top returning scorer, averaged 10.3 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.4 assists as a freshman.
Scott had 20 points and six assists in the win over the Dolphins while Malcolm Grant had 23 points, shooting 4 of 6 from 3-point range. Miami took the lead for good with a 12-0 run midway through the second half.
“Our schedule’s heavy early on,” coach Frank Haith said. “It’s very important to get that first win. … We’re going to have the same type of game Monday.”
Memphis is 6-5 all-time against Miami, but has lost three of four, including the most recent, meeting in 2000.