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Get inside March Madness with SI.com's Luke Winn in the Tourney Blog, a daily journal of college basketball commentary, on-site reporting and reader-driven discussions.
3/29/2008 06:27:00 PM

Elite Eight Q&A With ... Memphis' Pierre Niles

Pierre Niles
Pierre Niles averages 0.8 points per game off the bench for top-seeded Memphis.
HOUSTON -- The blog's Q&A routine has changed for the NCAA tournament. After running through a series of stars over the past two seasons -- everyone from Texas A&M's Acie Law IV to to Vandy's Shan Foster -- the focus has turned to the reserves. On Friday we ran our first-ever walk-on Q&A, with Texas' Ian Mooney, and today's subject is Memphis' Pierre Niles, a sophomore forward who averaged 0.8 points in 4.3 minutes per game this season, and at 310 pounds, gives the Tigers some serious muscle off the bench when needed. Niles, whose real first name is Jartavious, is one of two native Memphians on the Tigers' roster. He earned cult fame in the college hoops world in February, when, during a fracas following Memphis' 79-78 win at UAB, he slapped an unruly fan wearing a Larry the Cable Guy costume. We caught up with him in the locker room on the day before the Tigers' Elite Eight showdown with Texas.

Luke Winn: You're usually wearing headphones during these interview sessions, and then I've heard you loudly singing rap lyrics from time to time. What songs are you belting out?

Pierre Niles: It's just local rap -- Yo Gotti. Well, he's not local anymore. He signed with Cash Money [Records] last year. That's my favorite rapper, so every time in the locker room or on the bus, I've always gotta listen to him to get my mind right.

LW: You've been listening to him since when he was just local, though?

PN: I've been listening to him ever since he first came out in Memphis, my seventh- or eighth-grade year. And as the years got on, he's been getting bigger and bigger. I've got all of his CDs on here [holds up his iPod].

LW: The style of Memphis hip-hop is ... what?

PN: It's hype. Something you can dance to, get crunk to. A lot of my teammates don't like it because they're from up north. They like music they can get laid back to. But I'm from Memphis, so I like something I can get hyped to, get my mind right. Like, D-Rose [Derrick Rose], he'll listen to some Kanye West, because he's a laid-back guy, not a hype guy.

LW: You've got "North" and "Memphis" tattooed on either forearm, from your old neighborhood. Is Hustle and Flow, like, an accurate look at Memphis?

PN: Yeah, I'm from that hood, North Memphis, and then I've got Andre Allen over there [across the locker room], he's from South Memphis. So when they made that movie, we'd look at stuff and be like, we've been there -- to the skating rinks, to the streets that they was on.

LW: Have you been on the Internet and seen the montage someone made -- with Whoop That Trick from Hustle and Flow playing, and you slapping that fan at UAB? [It's here, but the lyrics are explicit.] That's almost like your own music video.

PN: [Laughing.] I ain't seen it until Andre Allen came to me and told me it was up on MySpace. So they showed it to me then, that somebody had put that together.

Pierre Niles

LW: Was that the craziest game you've ever been in as a player, with the crowd in Birmingham acting like it did, almost like a riot?

PN: It wasn't the craziest game. But the fans were just disrespectful, throwing beer, spitting on us, and all kinds of stuff like that. Stuff that wasn't called for. And one of the players got in my face and called me some words. So I just retaliated.

LW: And that fan in the orange jumpsuit?

PN: He was just pointing in my face and calling me different names. I ain't the type of dude to let somebody say something to my face, and point in my face, so I did something about it.

LW: Have you ever seen Larry the Cable Guy, the comic that the fan was dressed like?

PN: Never seen him. But I've heard about him.

LW: What has it been like, to see Derrick Rose kind of turn into one of the stars of this NCAA tournament? That double-pump reverse he had last night against Michigan State was pretty amazing.

PN: There's a lot of freshmen out there -- you've got O.J. Mayo, Kevin Love, Michael Beasley -- but I don't see none of them doing what Derrick Rose is doing. He carried us out of a drought last night, he came back in, picked the game up, and that man carried us all the way. He's got something special in him.

LW: And Rose's dunk? What about that?

PN: He said he was going to stop laying the ball up this tournament. And he showed that last night. He ain't playing around no more. Everyone was saying to him, "You've got too much hops to just be trying to lay the ball up." So he during the conference tournament that he'd start dunking in the [NCAA] tournament, and last night, he got that fastbreak, and he did something real nice with it.

LW: Derrick calls what Chris Douglas-Roberts does -- the crossovers and floaters and such -- "old-man moves." What do you call them?

PN: I just call them sweet. He's so sweet with the ball, smooth with it. He can play like an old man, but I don't think an old man would have the moves he's been doing. To be honest with you, other than Thad Young, my old AAU teammate, CDR is one of my favorite players I've ever played with.

LW: In your scouting report of Texas, what do you guys plan to do to counteract the fact that their big men are on the perimeter a lot?

PN: I think it's just Damion James. That's just one player we have to worry about. [Connor Atchley] can shoot it a little bit, but the only one we have to worry about is James. He's a real good player.

LW: Texas sort of has a version of you in Dexter Pittman, the 299-pound guy who comes off of its bench. How would that matchup work, if you were pitted against him?

PN: It would be a good matchup. I don't know if he's bigger than me. I think I'm kind of faster than him, and can jump higher than him, so I'd like to see it play out. We played against each other in AAU once, and we beat them.

LW: I assume you end up battling a lot with Joey Dorsey in practice. How does that go?

PN: We go against each other a lot. Coach wants [Dorsey] to match up with me because I'm big and physical, and he thinks I can help Joey out. Plenty of practices he'll have the best of me, and in plenty I'll have the best of him. Sometimes coach will call practice off if we're really going at it. Like, Joey will dunk on me or I'll dunk on him. Coach Cal called it off one time after I dunked on Joey -- just blew the whistle and said, practice over, practice over, so we just brought it in.

LW: What kind of tricks does Joey use to get position for rebounds? And how do you get in his head?

PN: He's just big and physical, and he's got quick feet. He ain't like the big men who can't move. If you look at him he's like a power forward. He's just playing the five because we don't have a real five. Joey is real strong and he gets real low in position. If you want to get in his head, though, just keep talking to him, checking him, keeping him unfocused.

LW: What's your best Joey story from the past few years?

PN: Last year, in San Antonio [for the Elite Eight] we were having a water fight in the hotel -- it's a normal thing, we just had one in Little Rock, too -- and he was throwing cups of water at people. Well, Joey peeked out his door, and I think it was Willie or Andre, they had filled up this big thing of hot water out the tub. Joey looks out, and they threw the bucket in his face, and he started screaming and hollering and running down the hallway, jumping up and down like a monkey. That was the funniest thing last year.

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