'Bitter' rivalry?

The University of Memphis basketball staff seemingly pulled out all the stops in motivating the Tigers for last night's game with Tennessee.

First, a Memphis media type quoted a source (probably within the coaching staff) as characterizing last fall's Vol-Tiger recruiting battle for Bolivar's Willie Kemp as "bitter." The comment came to light a few days before the Vols and Tigers met at FedEx Forum.

Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl says the chase for Kemp was intense but clean.

"There was nothing bitter about the recruitment," Pearl said. "Willie Kemp is a great player, lives about an hour from Memphis, and it came down to us and Memphis. It was a great competition for him. We wanted him very badly. So did Memphis, and that's where he went. There wasn't anything bitter from my standpoint. We competed against ‘em. We lost."

As the Vol-Tiger game approached, the Commercial-Appeal ran a quote from Memphis-born UT forward Dane Bradshaw, noting that playing before a bunch of drunken fraternity boys at LSU wasn't nearly as intimidating as playing before a band of "gang-bangers" had been during his prep days in Memphis. Bradshaw admitted he even received a death threat prior to one high school game.

The Vol junior also made a whimsical comment – off the record, he insists – that "One of the coach's biggest thrills is to have everybody eligible after the semester." This, too, wound up making its way into the Memphis media, creating a perception that Bradshaw was portraying his hometown as one giant crime-infested Ghetto. When he took the floor Wednesday night he was booed roundly, even by Tiger head coach John Calipari's wife.

"I expected the student section to give me ‘Memphis reject' comments," said Bradshaw, who was not recruited by his hometown school, "but I really didn't want the crowd to boo me because this is my home."

In retrospect, he noted on the Vol Network post-game show that he "probably should've used better terms" in his comments to the media, adding that he has "nothing but respect for the Memphis program."

Pearl conceded that Bradshaw used a term that was "inappropriate" but said the comments were blown out of proportion by Memphis' head coach.

"John is a very bright guy," the Vol coach said, "and the rivalry is on. I understand why John used it as a motivational thing for his team in some ways but he knows Bradshaw wasn't talking about his players or Memphis."

Regardless, one thing is clear: Calipari & Company are taking the Vols quite seriously these days.

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