If next season is going to be the year Memphis returns to the national prominence it achieved under John Calipari, the Tigers may have to figure out a way to do it without their most decorated incoming freshman.
Will Barton, the centerpiece of Rivals.com's top-ranked recruiting class, has been declared academically ineligible for next season, according to multiple reports. Unless the 6-foot-6 shooting guard wins a long shot appeal with the NCAA, it's likely he'll play professionally overseas or in the NBA Development League without ever suiting up for Memphis.
"It dont get no worse than this," Barton tweeted on Wednesday afternoon. "The hardest thing I ever had 2 face is here. Need vision cuz everything blurry now. Where do I go from here?"
The absence of Barton would be a major blow to a Tigers program that went 134-14 from 2005-06 to 2008-09 but slipped in Josh Pastner's first year after all of Calipari's top recruits followed him out the door. The presence of fellow top 25 recruits small forward Jelan Kendrick and point guard Joe Jackson ensure Memphis will likely improve, but the Tigers might regret encouraging senior guard Roburt Sallie to transfer to Louisville earlier this summer.
Among the issues reportedly preventing Barton from being eligible next season are insufficient grades in core classes and the fact that he did not graduate in eight semesters. Memphis Commercial Appeal reporter Dan Wolken even theorized that Barton may have been advised to graduate from Lake Clifton High School in August 2009 instead of June to preserve his McDonald's All-American eligibility at Brewster Academy this past year, a complete shame if true.
Memphis' hopes of returning to prominence next season now probably depend on freshman wings Kendrick and Chris Crawford.
If they both play with consistency and make the immediate impact Barton likely would have, the Tigers will still be very good. If not, anything more than a Conference USA title and a win or two in the NCAA tournament may be unrealistic.