MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Speculation started a while back and mostly centered around Justin Timberlake, the native Memphian who doubles as a big Tiger basketball fan. He's been in this city consistently for a few weeks rehearsing at the nearby Landers Center for a world tour that launches next month. So fans had started to wonder if maybe, just maybe, the accomplished musician and actor would show up at Friday night's Memphis Madness.
By Friday morning, though, it was clear he would not.
But what about Drake?
His father lives in Memphis, and Drake filmed a video here just two days ago. So some predicted that hip-hop star might actually be the secret special guest. But a quick glance at Drake's tour schedule showed he'd be spending Friday night in Pittsburgh, which led to that rumor ending almost as quickly as it started.
So there would be no Drake and no Timberlake.
(Just something called iLuminate.)
And yet still, for the fifth time in Josh Pastner's five seasons as a head coach, a capacity crowd of more than 18,000 filled FedExForum for a glorified pep rally that must've been impressive for the 19 recruits in attendance -- among them Cliff Alexander (No. 3 in the Class of 2014), Skal Labissiere (No. 10 in the Class of 2015), K.J. Lawson (No. 47 in the Class of 2015) and Dedric Lawson (No. 6 in the Class of 2016).
"This has taken on a life of its own," Pastner told me late Friday. "It's unbelievable. ... Do you know how many programs could [draw 18,000 for this]?"
"I'm thinking more like two, maybe three," Pastner said. "That's the level this program's at."
The 100-minute party began with Jimi Jamison performing "Eye of the Tiger" while FedExForum's new court was unveiled, and the night was highlighted by special video messages from rappers Rick Ross and Yo Gotti. Eventually, the Tigers scrimmaged for 10 minutes -- at which point it became apparent that this team ranked 13th in the preseason USA Today coaches poll will be one of the nation's deepest.
"Another team might have a better top six or top eight, but I have 11 or 12 guys who can really play," Pastner said. "And that's why we're going to press and play really fast -- because we're going to have more players than most people, and I'm going to use all of them."