Memphis Insider Punctures Hopes for Hogs vs Tigers with John Calipari Prediction

John Calipari

You don’t have to frequent farmers’ markets to know keeping it local is only human nature.

For decades, if the Arkansas basketball did anything notable, it did it powered by local and regional players. That was certainly the case for the best teams of Eddie Sutton and Nolan Richardson, even though things started trending more nationally in the last few years, it happened with Eric Musselman too.

Isaiah Joe, Mason Jones (Dallas area), Jaylin Williams, Moses Moody, Anthony Black (Dallas area) and Devo Davis can testify to that.

Now, in the first months of this John Calipari, fans must get used to a new reality.

Calipari doesn’t need to think locally. Looking ahead, he may not spend as much time recruiting home-grown talent considering this focus will be on trying to pull in as many top 10 national recruits as possible (Arkansas is in the running for three of the top four class of 2025 recruits).

Arkansas Basketball’s New Reality

We see some of this ability to pull from around the world already reflected in the 2024-25 roster. You’ll find no Arkansas native scholarship player and only two regional recruits in Springfield, Mo. native Trevon Brazile and Memphis native Billy Richmond III.

Memphis, of course, is the most historically significant metro to the legacy of Arkansas basketball outside the state itself. It produced a litany of Razorback greats including Ron Huery, Arlyn Bowers, Corey Beck, Dwight Stewart and Todd Day, the program’s all-time leading scorer.

On top of that legacy, Memphis basketball represent arguably Arkansas’ most “beloved” non-conference rival. The programs started playing each other in the 1960s, sometimes in Little Rock, and squared off annually from 1992 through 2003. The recruiting benefits of playing a home-and-home in Memphis outweighed the losses the Razorbacks incurred in a rivalry that produced setbacks half of the time.

Those memories of regional games and Memphis-raised stars are why so many Arkansas fans, to this day, would love to see an annual Razorbacks-Tigers matchup renewed.

Good luck with that, though.

Two decades ago, the reason was John Calipari. At the time, he was in charge of an emerging powerhouse at Memphis and essentially said he had his sights set on much bigger fish than playing a border state rival.

Now, it appears, the reason is again Calipari.

Some of the reasoning remains the same. Arkansas simply doesn’t need Memphis talent like it used to. Some of that is because of the expanded national/international footprint that Calipari can competitively recruit, while part of issue is even regionally the Dallas metro area has overtaken Memphis as a basketball hotbed.

On top of that, why would Calipari voluntarily subject himself to regularly playing against a city where so many Memphis basketball fans still despise him for the way he left for Kentucky after nine seasons?

“Calipari slunk out of town like the Grinch slithering around a denuded Christmas tree,” The Athletic’s Dana O’Neil wrote. “He took their civic pride and successes. He plucked away their recruits.”

The worst of it was the Derrick Rose-related investigation that ultimately forced Memphis to vacate its 38-win season in 2008 and national runner-up finish. “It was as if all that Memphis had achieved was an illusion,” O’Neil added.

Penny Hardaway Wants Calipari

This hasn’t stopped Penny Hardaway, the current Memphis basketball coach and Todd Day’s friend, from continually courting Calipari.

Nearly six years ago, he was pressing for a home-and-home or annual matchup with Kentucky, even after he instigated the first decommitment from Calipari during his time at Kentucky.

At the time, Calipari was noncommital on the prospect of playing Memphis but open to the idea. “I don’t think a home-and-home would be in the cards, but playing them? Maybe we can figure out something,” he said in 2018.

Hardaway added: “We’ve been talking about it, and I’m going to continue to talk to (John Calipari) about it.”

It looks like they’ll just continue kicking the can down the road, though, despite Hardaway’s renewed optimism around Calipari’s move to Fayetteville.

“We couldn’t do it at Kentucky,” Hardaway said in late April 2024. “But I think because the Razorbacks want the rivalry back, they might kind of force his hand.”

Memphis Basketball Insider On Cal’s Punting

Don’t expect said forcing any time soon, says Gary Parrish, the long-time Memphis basketball insider and national analyst.

“I’d be shocked if John ever voluntarily agrees to bring a team to FedEx Forum,” he recently told Tye Richardson on ESPN Arkansas’ “Hit That Line.” “He will always leave it open as a possibility. He’ll tell Penny, ‘Let’s talk about it,’ and then the next time they talk, he’ll tell him, ‘Let’s talk about it,’ and then the next time they talk, he’ll say, ‘Hey, we should talk about that,’ and never actually get there.”

That’s quite the All-American punting right there.

It’s good marketing for Hardaway to bring up the prospect of getting Calipari back in Memphis any time he can. And it does Arkansas’ coach no good to slam the door on his possibility forever, either.

Hankering for Arkansas vs Memphis is just part of a bigger narrative around what role local flavor should play in the Razorback basketball program going forward. No Arkansas vs Memphis, no native Arkansan on staff outside of Ronnie Brewer Jr. and no scholarship Arkansas native – all of this will begin to matter only if Calipari fails to deliver on the promise his immensely talented roster holds.

And if Calipari does deliver?

Fans won’t care whether their Hogs come from Newark, Ark. or Newark, N.J, Paris, Ark. or Paris, France – they will just be happy that at long last someone came through on their word.

Listen to the entire interview with Parrish here:

More on Arkansas basketball from BoAS here:

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