This season's starting squad is well balanced, getting all-around floor play from Haynes and Parks, muscle from the 6'9", 225-pound Phillips and whippet speed from freshman Point Guard Andre Turner. It is hard to say what kind of game strategy works best against the Tigers, though ganging up on Lee isn't one of them. He'll simply pass off, and as Kirk says, "We've got other players who'll appear in the NBA."
If Lee has any shortcomings they are his defense, where his lack of weight becomes a disadvantage, and a sort of adolescent mischievousness he occasionally displays during practices and dull games. Terwilliger recalls how he once had to paddle Lee for not hustling in practice. Early this season Lee raised Kirk's hackles by letting fly with a 45-foot jumper in the second half of the Wyoming game. The Tigers were leading at the time 61-40. "I thought I could make it," Lee said later. After a while he amended that. "The name of the game is having fun," he said. "You should do what the coach tells you, but if you can't have fun, it's like a job. And it's not supposed to be a job, is it?" No, it's not. And Kirk has even told Lee he can take the shot again, when the Tigers are up by 30.
"The most important things to me are God, my family and basketball," Lee says. "I mean, put school in there before basketball. And when I say family, that includes Diane."
But this is the 10th anniversary of the 1973 team, and Memphians are wild for a big winner. Even though no tickets are available for Memphis State games, people seek them. One man has offered to donate $15,000 to the basketball program in exchange for two season tickets in the "golden circle" area of the arena. "He'll give the money anyway," says Cavagnaro. "But we'll never get him seats. There's no way." Dick Hackett, the recently elected mayor of the city of Memphis, told a reporter, "One of the reasons I ran for mayor was to get season tickets to Memphis State games." "He's telling the truth," says ticket manager Cannon. "He was on our waiting list."
Kirk tries to downplay MSU's prospects for the Final Four, pointing out that the team has a relatively weak bench, an untested point guard and is in the unaccustomed and unwanted role of the "hunted rather than hunter." But it doesn't work. The Tigers are for real and, at least at home, where they've won 26 in a row, nearly invincible. During games in the Mid-South Coliseum a bare-chested, buffalo-headed fanatic known as the Medicine Man jumps up and down behind the backboard whenever an opponent tries a free throw. It's an amusing, albeit unsporting, act, but it doesn't occur all that often because referees seem terrified to call fouls on Kirk's team. After his Wyoming team was outshot 35 to 3 from the stripe, Coach Jim Brandenburg snarled to newsmen, "I don't want to talk to anybody in Memphis."
Opponents must understand that something that means so much to a whole populace isn't going to be surrendered gracefully. Though they may want a piece of the Memphis Thin Man, they'd do well to remember a line by the late Memphis Fat Man. "If you're lookin' for trouble," Elvis sang in King Creole, "you came to the right place."