Every tournament brings a few breakout stars from the first weekend, and Memphis' DJ Stephens made his stamp on this year's tourney in the most effective way possible: by throwing down dunks hard enough to rock the Palace of Auburn Hills. His slams were the exclamation point on a harder-than-it-had-to-be 54-52 win over St. Mary's, the first time Memphis has gotten out of the first round in the last three tournaments.
It may have been much of the nation's first (and, as he's a senior, last) introduction to Stephens, but it was perfectly in keeping with the dunking mastery he's shown during his entire Tiger career. He's one of the first post-Calipari Tigers, rescued by Memphis coach Josh Pastner when other schools bailed on their scholarship commitments to Stephens. Asthmatic, skinny and unable to do more than two pushups as a freshman, as revealed in a fine local profile of him, Stephens turned into one of the most beloved ballers in a town that sanctifies its basketball heroes, like Penny Hardaway, Elliott Perry and the late Lorenzen Wright. Stephens fits perfectly into Pastner's theory of vertical basketball.
"I don't like playing below the rim," Pastner said at halftime. "If you're going to play for me, you've got to be quick, you've got to be fast, and you've got to play above the rim."
That's not a problem for No. 30. Stephens has a habit of circus routines around the basket; check out this video from last week's Conference USA tourney. Yes, that's Stephens kissing the rim:
Memphis now prepares for a tough matchup with Michigan State on Saturday.