The imagination can be a tricky thing.
It can be creative, convincing and compelling when given extra time and space to roam. It can also be delicate, deceptive, even dangerous.
Memphis basketball’s up-and-down offseason has given fans and outside observers plenty of fodder when imagining the possibilities for what the 2022-23 season will look like.
So, let’s entertain some of the more entertaining notions.
What if Emoni Bates comes back?
Wouldn’t that be a real head-spinner?
Bates’ ride at Memphis was not a smooth one. What began as an identity crisis (the ill-fated point guard experiment) and continued with some well-documented chemistry issues, wound up going almost completely off the rails when multiple injuries yielded reports that Bates’ time with the Tigers was prematurely up.
Then, Bates resurfaced and played spare minutes in both of Memphis’ NCAA Tournament games, only to opt for the transfer portal in April.
Two months later, though, the talented scorer’s future remains undetermined. Bates is reportedly considering the likes of Michigan and Louisville. It’s also possible he will choose G League Ignite or some other professional avenue.
But what if Bates winds up right back where he started? Sounds crazy, right? And it might be. But Memphis coach Penny Hardaway has said for one weeks of the things he’s still looking for is a shooter (or, shooters). Bates can certainly shoot. The Tigers have plenty of scholarships available for next season as well.
When asked about it, opinions from sources around the Tigers’ program have been mixed. Some feel it makes a lot of sense. Some do not. Some believe it could work but only if both sides can agree on a path forward that best sets Bates up for success.
The Commercial Appeal also spoke with a source with very close ties to Bates about the potential of a reunion.
“Great question. I’m not sure. That’s Emoni’s call,” the source said. “His focus right now is getting stronger and taking his time to make the best decision for him. Definitely can’t rule anything out. Until a decision is made, anything is possible.”
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What if Emmanuel Akot picks Memphis?
Emmanuel Akot, the 6-foot-8 former Boise State starter, took an official visit to Memphis this week and is expected to pick up among the Tigers, Western Kentucky and NC State in the near future.
The former Bronco is a proven perimeter threat (39.5% from deep last season). Coach Penny Hardaway has placed a premium on adding a player like that. We also know Hardaway loves versatile pieces, and Akot is every bit of that. Capable of guarding one through four while also showing the ability to do multiple things on offense, Akot’s presence could mean Memphis is in business.
Adding Akot to a lineup that includes DeAndre Williams and Kendric Davis also would help steady the waters and get expectations for the 2022-23 season closer to what most thought they would be at the close of last season.
What if this is it for Memphis roster?
For all the question marks Memphis is facing, the starting lineup is far and away the biggest.
Even if Akot joins the Tigers, there are still only three players who can be penciled in as starters from Day 1 – Davis and Williams being the others. No one is saying Hardaway won’t eventually land other starting candidates. But what if that doesn’t happen?
For starters, it could mean a pair of guards, redshirt senior Jayden Hardaway and/or redshirt freshman Johnathan Lawson, find themselves thrust into critical roles for the first time. It also could mean senior center Malcolm Dandridge will have to play way more minutes than ever before in a Memphis uniform.
Jayden Hardaway, largely a role player for much of his career, has shown steady improvement. Last season, he made as many 3-pointers (12) as he did the previous two seasons combined. Hardaway’s son is also a capable defender and an intelligent presence.
The 6-6 Lawson has plenty of tools and a track record of both team success and individual excellence at the high school level. Whether he can make the transition quickly and smoothly remains to be seen.
Dandridge has played a bunch for the Tigers (81 games in three seasons) and has shown enough to make you think there’s something there. But he’s been inconsistent at best. Lingering knee issues and conditioning issues have limited him to just 12.2 minutes per game in his career.
Reach sports writer Jason Munz at email@example.com or on Twitter @munzly.