By Gary Parrish
MEMPHIS -- Wesley Witherspoon has had a strange college career filled with more downs than ups.
The diehard fans have been hard on him
Some have given up on him.
But he's the reason Memphis is still atop the Conference USA standings.
The 6-foot-8 senior finished with 12 points in Saturday night's 83-76 win over Marshall here at FedExForum that pushed the Tigers' league mark to the same 6-1 record that Southern Miss earned earlier. But he also chased loose balls. And drew a charge. And blocked a shot in the final three minutes. And grabbed an offensive rebound in the closing seconds. And basically did all the little things coaches beg players to do.
"You never know what my role is gonna be [because] it changes night in and night out," Witherspoon said. "So I just have to make sure I'm ready to play basketball everyday."
Which has always been the knock on Witherspoon.
He's frustrating because he's not ready to play basketball everyday.
Sometimes he's very good.
But he disappears too often for anybody's liking.
Proof is in the fact that the former projected first-round draft pick is a reserve ranked eighth in points per game on the Memphis roster. His coaches have decided they can't rely on him, and it's difficult to blame them. But now isn't the time to stress that because Wesley Witherspoon was the anti-Wesley Witherspoon on this night. He didn't jog. He ran. He wasn't soft. He played strong. He didn't sulk. He smiled.
And he doesn't really have a reputation for smiling much on the court.
"Exactly," said Memphis sophomore Will Barton. "So we've just got to keep him smiling all the time."