At one time, Memphis State was the ‘king of the hill’ when it came to racquetball, now they are dormant.

The University of Memphis at one time was considered to be the Harvard of racquetball,  unbeatable and determined for nothing less than championships.  From 1975-1983 they successfully won 14 straight men and woman’s national titles in the sport. In charge of it all was head coach Larry Liles, a Hall of Fame inductee and Olympiad.  Suddenly though, in 1994, the program became dormant and has seized to exist.  It is a mind boggling scenario.  Why on Earth would a school allow their most successful sports program in history just slip away into the darkness, with no NCAA suspension in place?

 

It turns out that the university budget was very low for supporting Racquetball. The program came to rest once Coach Larry Liles retired, due to being exhausted from attempts to fund the team. In the mid-1970s, when Larry Liles was the coach of a fledgling racquetball program at the University of Memphis, road trips on a sparse budget were an adventure.

And they provided priceless memories.

“There were times when there would be eight guys in one hotel room,” Liles said.”I had one guy, Keith Dunlap, who would bringhis sleeping bag and sleep in the bathtub.Then he’d wake up the next morning and go pound someone and win the tournament.It was so much fun then.”

For Liles, during his 28th and final season at the U of M, the joy he derived from starting a club program and building it into a national power had  subsided. He had grown weary of asking the same businessmen to fund a program that, outside the umbrella of U of M athletics, received little support from the university. Racquetball is not an NCAA-sponsored sport and Liles has never been paid for coaching.

“The main reason I’m left racquetball coaching is that I was just tired of chasing the money,” Liles said.”We were, more or less, self supported. The out-of-state tuition for one of my players is well over $10,000 a year and it’s money that I’ve got to raise. And since that everyone was in a money crunch I feel like the biggest beggar in the world.”  Liles said he’d receive about $1,500 from the university’s student activity fee fund. The remainder he would  have to raise, just as he had every other year the Tigers have participated in the nationals.

Liles, who co-authored a textbook with Dr. Robert Neimeyer called Winning Racquetball in 1993, underwent hip replacement surgery about 18 months ago and suffered through a series of complications afterwards. In addition to his success at the U of M, Liles coached the U.S. National Racquetball Team to a gold medal in the 1988 Pan-American Games. He also coached a member of the sport’s Hall of Fame, Memphis native Andy Roberts.

Liles, now 65, and an accomplished player himself, said the racquetball community in Memphis has been extremely supportive through the years, but added “it was just time for me to move on.” Coach Liles did something that everyone in the Memphis community should be proud of.  He took a program from scratch, with little funding, and made it famous around the world.  He put Memphis at the center of the racquetball world.  He added, “It is sad to see that no one felt the need to find a replacement coach, and he wishes the program had continued.”

A reflection for Social Media

Throughout this semester I have worked hard on building a self-made side project of mine, entitled, “Memphian Sports.”  It more so relates to anything sports relevant in the greater mid-south area.  At first, I had some trouble deciding what I wanted to primary concentrate my final project on.  I thought about the Grizzles playoff run and some other mainstream ideas, but I wanted to be creative.  Finally, about a day after the deadline for a topic was due, an idea came to me while in my racquetball class. Since I was a freshman here at the University of Memphis I have played racquetball countless amount of times amongst all the banners and trophies hanging on the walls.  There are fifteen of them from 1975-1989 that read, “Intercollegiate Racquetball  National Champions”.  My teacher for the class, Coach Larry Liles, has spoken to me personally on several occasions, explaining in detail that Memphis State at one time was the Alabama of the sport of racquetball, but the program stopped in 1994 after he retired.  I ran this through my head many times and could not quite get a grasp nor makes sense of why such a successful program would stop dead in the water and yet to be revamped.  For this reason,  my love sports, and of investigative journalism, I decided to try and get to make this the theme of my final project.

 

For this project, I used multiple methods of social media.  I compiled two separate blog post, one explaining where the sport of racquetball is today, and secondly explaining the rise and fall of the University of Memphis (formerly Memphis State) racquetball program. Both stories were put onto WordPress, which is connceted to my Memphian Sports Twitter and Facebook page. My goal was to see how interested people would be and how they would react to said topic, using Google and Facebook analytics to do so. Compared to most of my material shared through Memphian Sports, racquetball was an entirely different subject.  I was very pleased to see what happened next.  According to Facebook analytic, my total page “likes” went up to 45,which is up 35.5 percent from the last two weeks.  The total “reach” got to 575, which is up 100 percent from last week.  Same goes for the engagement factor, 45 people were engaged this week, a 100 percent increase from the previous week. My “Post Reach” category went up 65 percent in the last three days from my story post, along with eleven new fans since the stories have been posted. My twitter feed also saw an increased amount of followers in the last two weeks.  I have grown to 125 followers, including ten new followers in the last few days.  Needless to say, I was very uplifted by the amount of support my pages have been receiving.  Memphian Sports also has an Instagram account, along with Youtube. I posted several pictures of the many national championship banners on Instagram and I posted a video of racquetball play by the intermediate class at the University of Memphis.  With this video is commentary by Coach Larry Liles.

Through out this project I grasped the idea of analytics and how they can help your social media grow, I got to interview a Hall of Fame coach, and had the chance to do some intense research along the way.  All in all, it is sad that the university has yet to start the racquetball program back up, but it by no means says that the sport is dead in our city. In fact, racquetball is quite alive, with new players learning and loving it more each semester.

Racquetball: Nowhere near a dead sport, especially in Memphis.

In the mid-1970s, racquetball was one of the hottest sports on the planet, and Memphis was its epicenter. Today it’s one of those sports, like jumping rope and baseball, that lots of us used to play and few of us still play. It didn’t quite go the way of tube socks and disco, but it was definitely headed that way. How and why does a sport with such appeal to both men and women bloom, have an interest drop, and sky rocket again in popularity?

Just like fashion, sports interest come and go.  The perfect example of that today is the sport of racquetball. The sport was one of the fastest growing of all time, that steadily dropped during the 1990’s. It most likely just didn’t fit into the time and era of what was cool anymore. “People just lost interest,” said Larry Liles, former men’s and women’s head racquetball coach for Memphis State University.  Larry Liles coached Memphis State from 1973 until 1995, winning 15 national championships along the way.  With a lack of funding provided by the university and sudden drop of interest in the sport, the timing of his retirement falls in line with the sudden decrease in popularity. Although the peak of racquetball’s  popularity was without a doubt between the 70’s and 80’s, it is starting to come back to life, interest heavily present in this very year, especially in Memphis.  Every year the city of Memphis holds the U.S. Singles and Doubles championships at The Racquet Club of Memphis and “the crowd support has been the most we have seen in years,” says co-owner Brian Sullivan.  An estimated five million citizens of the U.S. play the sport on a daily to weekly basis and that number is continuing to grow.  Although the University of Memphis no longer has an official racquetball squad, they have started a class a few years back that is highly popular.  Coach Liles says, “We have a beginner’s class and an intermediate class offered here at the university, I am very thrilled and honored to continue teaching the fabulous sport to college students.” “The classes are hard to get into nowadays because they fill up so quickly, everyone wants to see what the sport is about. Of course, many might just be looking for that easy, “A.”

Memphis gets grizzled by Thunder in game one, despite a rally late.

The Memphis Grizzles game out the gates Saturday night with a healthy team, but it appeared they forgot their horses at home. They did not come out and play typical “Grit n’ Grind” basketball in the early going.  They played just how the Thunder wanted them to play, fast and up tempo, which is not Memphis’s style of play. It seemed like Memphis couldn’t hit a shot, while Oklahoma City on the other hand couldn’t miss.  One of the biggest problems for the Grizzlies in the first half was that they couldn’t knock anything down outside of the paint. Perimeter shooting was one of Memphis’ concerns coming in, since it ranked last in made three-pointers and 19th in three-point percentage during the regular season.

Kevin Durant did Kevin Durant things, leading the way with 33 points on 13-of-25 shooting. The Thunder needed each and every one of those points, since Russel Westbrooke was at some points impressive and others confounding. He shot 6-of-10 in the first half and scored 16 points. In the second half, he went 2-of-9 and ended up with 23 points for the entire game. The Thunder star missed all five of his three-point attempts. 

Memphis kept funneling the ball into the post, where Serge Ibaka, Steven Adams and Nick Collison were all too happy to send shots away and start the transition quickly. The Thunder scored 21 points on the fast break in the first half, compared to six for their opponents. Memphis closed the gap to only two points, 74-72, with eight minutes and 45 seconds to go, but that was as close as it got to pulling  off the improbable comeback. Slowly but surely, the Thunder regained their footing and built their lead back up to double digits. Two things were working against the Grizzlies in the fourth quarter. First was that Randolph had been working with five fouls for the last 9:52 of the game. Second was that Joerger worked for a large stretch of the second half without making a single substitution:

 

The Oklahoma City Thunder survived a major scare at home in Game 1 of their first-round series with the Memphis Grizzlies. After watching a 22-point lead dwindle to only two points in the second half, OKC earned a 100-86 win.

The teams have Sunday off, with Game 2 on Monday night at 8 p.m. ET. It will be interesting to see how each team approaches the game.

Both the Grizzlies and Thunder had good spells in Game 1, but they have some problems that will need to be addressed. OKC must display much better consistency, Westbrook in particular, while the Grizzlies need more than three points out of Mike Miller. Without any three-point offense, they’re done.If Oklahoma City takes Game 2, that could very well be the end of the series. As good as Memphis is, you don’t see that team being able to take four out of six games to advance.The Thunder were the first home team to win among Saturday’s four first-round games. Next time, the Grizzles hope to come out of the gates with a second-half style performance.

Grizzles Seeded at No. 8

The Memphis Grizzlies were given the lowest ranking for the playoffs, but that doesn’t mean they can’t advance. Remember in 2010-2011, the Grizz became one of the few No. 8 seeds to upset a No. 1? They dominated the Spurs in SIX games. To piggyback off of that game, Memphis forced the Oklahoma City Thunder to seven games. Last year, the No. 5 Grizzlies rolled past the Thunder in five games, stifling Kevin Durant and pounding them in the post.

And most importantly, what is this city about? Rising to the top when there looks like little hope. Believe Memphis is the catch phrase for a reason. The city of Memphis rarely catches a break unless we’re at the top of the list for crime, obesity and so on. The fact that we made the playoffs is great. The fact that we’re put at the bottom of the rankings is no new news for our city. This is what we’re about. So Believe Memphis because we got this.

Social Media Analytics can help a beginner, growing or experienced business/user.

For this week’s post, I decided to take a break from the sports talk and switch of to a more analytical view of social media. With all the hype around social media lately, many ask the questions, “How can I obtain more followers?” “How many people look at my pages?” or, “What topics that I post are people interested at?”

These questions can be answered fairly simply through a math equation called, Social Media Analytics.  This are two popular tools within the  social media metric system that can really help achieve more followers, and create a better understanding for social media users.

There are several social media metric devices and strategies I would like to see help me out. Really, they all seem extremely interesting. To me, this is a very foreign side of social media. I was surprised to learn that there was even tools to use for this aspect. One in particular that stood out to me and that I plan to use was Google Analytics. Tools like Google Analytics let you track website referral traffic from social media, see what percentage of overall referrals come from social media, and determine the frequency rates of your visitors. This last metric represents the real improvement on standard click-through rates (CTR) numbers. Visitor Frequency Rate are supposed to parses viewers into new and return visitors, two particularly valuable groups to understand and target. It should show return visitor numbers further indicate the depth of engagement and strength of your social networks. New visitors confirm that your more nebulous ‘reach’ and ‘audience’ metrics accurately depict meaningful growth.
Secondly, there is a source called “reach.” This metric tool helps track your “Audience Growth Rate,” and it’s tracking benefits can directly connect social media data with audience and business profits, such as total amount of followers. Thankfully, vague aggregated metrics like Facebook’s “People Talking About This” are disappearing, replaced by more specific break-out categories. One item you should pay attention to is your Audience Growth Rate. A refinement of New Followers or similar stats, expressed in percent-change over time, the growth rate of your audience depicts your social media momentum.

Audience Growth Rate will allow you to evaluate marketing efforts over time, without getting distracted by irrelevant information total followers’ numbers. It should help you compare growth-hacking efforts in your business’ infancy with more sophisticated campaigns you’re using today. Such as, what events match up with the highest growth-rate periods in my history?

Memphis Tiger season considered a disappointment? Not so fast my friends.

Ask any Memphis Tiger basketball fan their overall opinion of this years season and most would tell you it was disappointing.  But why?  Sure, it’s sad to have four senior guards on your team.  Sure, it’s no fun to go 0-5 against Connecticut and Cincinnati.  And yes, it stings to lose a handful of games by being blown out of the arena, especially in your first AAC tournament game, on your home floor.  I agree wholeheartedly, but does this determine a disappointing season?  Try this on for size.

Before entering the season, Josh Pastner was scrutinized for having yet to beat a AP/Top 25 team in his four years since being the Tigers head coach.  This year however, he beat five teams in the AP/Top 25, three of those teams having been in the top 10 at the time.  This Memphis squad swept longtime foe Louisville, successfully beating them in Memphis for the first time since 2003.  Memphis also only lost to one team with an RPI outside the top 50 (at Houston RPI:177.)  College basketball experts in Memphis have had a consensual expectation at the beginning, and throughout the year for this squad, the Sweet Sixteen.  If the tigers didn’t make it to the Sweet Sixteen it would be a disappointing season for the team, fans, and the city.  It has been a consistent, documented statement.

Yet here they are folks.  One game away from the Sweet Sixteen.  One game away from being able to throw anything said about themselves and their ‘lack of effort’ performances down the drown.  One game away from being forever known as a hero, instead of a zero.  One game from having a banner hang inside FedExForum until it’s dismantled. That game comes tonight at 7:40 against a rather difficult challenge, the number one seeded Virginia Cavaliers.  In college basketball, it’s all about “what have you done for me lately?”  Memphis has a chance to shock the world on the national stage, bringing this city together and to it’s feet once again.

Sophomore Shaq Goodwin tries to relax his teammates after practice Saturday in preparation of facing Virginia.

Memphis Tiger basketball looks to rebound again

After starting strong on the road in American Athletic Conference play, Memphis has hit a slight rough stretch.

The No. 22 Tigers can avoid a third straight AAC road defeat Thursday night by posting another decisive victory over a Rutgers team that will try for a fifth time this season to beat a ranked opponent.

Memphis (19-6, 8-4) won its first four league road games, and the closest margin came in a 73-67 victory over then-No. 12 Louisville on Jan. 9. However, the Tigers’ 16-game overall conference road winning streak ended with an 87-72 loss at SMU to open February and was followed by an 86-61 overtime defeat at then-No. 24 Connecticut on Saturday.

Joe Jackson had a season-high 24 points and Memphis shot 54.8 percent, but the Tigers went to the foul line nine times compared to 36 for UConn. The Huskies made 29 of those attempts to overcome a 39.3 percent shooting performance.

The loss snapped a three-game overall win streak for the Tigers, who have shot 50.9 percent during a stretch of seven wins in nine games.

“They’re definitely a strong team with their guards,” UConn star Shabazz Napier said. “Joe Jackson does a great job. They don’t seem to get tired.”

Jackson is averaging 17.4 points on 56.3 percent shooting (45 of 80) with 6.3 assists over the last eight games. He scored 16 and added a season-high eight assists, while Austin Nichols had 18 points in a 101-69 home rout of Rutgers (10-16, 4-9) on Feb. 4.

Memphis shot a season-high 59.0 percent, including 12 of 19 from 3-point range, forced 17 turnovers and outrebounded the Scarlet Knights 40-29 in that first-ever meeting between the schools.

“They’re bigger than we are,” Rutgers coach Eddie Jordan said after his team was outscored 44-28 in the paint in that contest. “They’re tougher, and they’re better. They almost shocked us with their physicality.”

That loss at Memphis opened a four-game stretch that featured three Top-25 opponents. Rutgers followed it with a 79-69 win at South Florida, then allowed 52.7 percent shooting while losing to then-No. 23 SMU and at then-No. 13 Louisville by a combined 60 points.

The Scarlet Knights shot 35.4 percent against the Cardinals, including 5 of 20 from 3-point range, and committed 18 turnovers Sunday while the reigning national champions went 16 of 30 from beyond the arc to hand them a 102-54 defeat.

“It’s one loss and our guys have to believe that,” Jordan said. “This loss cannot devastate you.

“We need to play with more confidence and stay together. (Memphis is) going to pressure you. They are going to body you up. They are going to be physical like they were down there. We have to answer the bell physically and intelligently.”

Guard Myles Mack (15.6 points per game) and forward Kadeem Jack (14.2), Rutgers’ top two scorers, each had 10 versus Louisville. Jack scored 12 and was the only Scarlet Knight in double figures at Memphis. Mack had nine points with five turnovers in that contest.

Rutgers has dropped 12 straight games against ranked opponents since beating then-No. 24 Pittsburgh 67-62 on Jan. 5, 2013.

Memphis Tiger Basketball gets prime time recruiting commercial for free, with the help of ESPN’s College Gameday.

#24 Memphis Tigers rebound big against Rugters.

Memphis made a concentrated effort to pound the ball inside early, and freshman forward Austin Nichols benefited from the strategy.

Nichols scored 18 points, and Joe Jackson added 16 points and eight assists as the 24th-ranked Tigers jumped to an early lead before dominating Rutgers 101-69 on Tuesday night.

The Tigers (17-5, 7-3 American Athletic Conference) hit a season-high 12 3-pointers and shot 59 percent, also a best this season. Nichols was 8 of 9 from the field, and Jackson hit all but one of his seven shots. Memphis worked the ball to Nichols from the start, and he had 13 points before the midway point of the first half.

”Our philosophy was to go inside out and that’s what we did,” said Memphis guard Chris Crawford, who had 12 points and 11 rebounds. ”Austin was great for us. We had an inside presence early, and it opened up for the guards on the outside.”

Memphis, which won its seventh game in the past nine, never trailed and led by as many as 41 points in the second half as the Tigers rebounded from an 87-72 loss at SMU on Saturday.

Michael Dixon scored 15 points, Shaq Goodwin added 13 and Geron Johnson had 12 for Memphis.

”Establishing the post presence early on in the game set everything else up,” Memphis coach Josh Pastner said. ”I love that Austin Nichols went 8 of 9 from the floor. He and Shaq Goodwin had some great moves down there below the rim.”

Pastner later added: ”We are just a better team when we play through the post.”