Memphis head coach Josh Pastner drew some immediate media backlash after asserting that D.J. Stephens of the Tigers will go down as one of the top five greatest players in Memphis basketball history.
The comment came this past weekend and Pastner has changed his stance slightly, saying that Stephens might not be top five, strictly judging on basketball talent. But in terms of energy and effort, D.J. is definitely at the top of the list, he maintains.
Pastner is also convinced that Stephens will go down as one of the most beloved Tigers. Regardless of where you stand on the debate, it is impossible to watch D.J. Stephens compete and say that he didn't leave it all on the court. He plays so hard that he has been held out of practice since October 21 because Pastner doesn't want to risk him getting injured.
The True Blue Nation has to be extremely pleased that Stephens didn't red shirt this season, as he has become a leader on the court for Memphis. A fact that makes it hard to imagine that D.J., now in his senior season, could've just as easily never been a Tiger.
When Stephens graduated from Harker Heights High School in Texas, he might not have ever had a chance to play D-1 basketball had it not been for his high school coach sending out a highlight video to college programs all over the country. When D.J. signed with Memphis, it was more a move to fill a roster spot than anything else.
It has to be a great feeling for Stephens, now in a starting role, when he hears his name announced during the pre-game lineups, followed by the loudest ovation given to any Tiger by the Memphis crowd.
D.J. wasn't just given the starting role, he earned it. He is averaging 6.5 points and has led the Tigers in rebounding in half of their games thus far this year. Stephens' block average is also tied for first in the C-USA with Houston's TaShawn Thomas. Both players, coincidentally from the same hometown of Killeen, Texas, average 2.1 blocks/game. However, Thomas stands 6'8'', while Stephens measures in at only 6'5''.
But not all of what Stephens brings to the court is tangible. His colossal dunks and the manner in which he rejects opposing players shots ignites the crowd and energizes his teammates. It's unreal not only how high Stephens elevates, but the speed at which he jumps. Truly a sight to behold!
D.J.'s high-flying aerobatics have most assuredly caught the attention of some NBA scouts, but his basketball future past his college career, excuse the pun, is very much up in the air. Hopefully after this season, some team will give him a chance – just like Memphis did four years ago.
Meanwhile, Memphis has 13 remaining regular season games (six at home), along with a hand full of conference tournament games and a possible NCAA tournament birth. If you haven't seen D.J. Stephens play in person, do yourself a favor.
Buy a ticket for the Tigers' match up this Saturday (Jan. 26) against Marshall and watch the spectacle first hand. You won't be disappointed!