Fate or Fortunate: Two Tigers find Bond in Unusual Circumstances
By: Preston McClellan
Drew Barham’s and DJ Stephens’ respective journeys to the University of Memphis were far from ordinary.
Now in the their second seasons on the Tiger basketball team–“strong sophomores”–as they refer to themselves, the duo has a bond stronger than the hardwood on which they compete.
“I’m close to everyone on the team,” Stephens explained. “But, (Drew) is my closest friend on the team.”
Yet, without the right circumstances, neither of them would have ended up in the Bluff City.
When Josh Pastner inherited a roster with only six scholarship players in April of 2009, Barham thought that it could mean an opportunity to play for his hometown Tigers.
Southern Illinois–where Barham originally signed a National Letter of Intent–wouldn’t let him out of his commitment, however. Stephens was an unsigned recruit that had committed to North Texas before finding out at the last minute his scholarship was going to elsewhere.
“(North Texas) had to give the scholarship to a guy they weren’t expecting to qualify, but he finally did,” Stephens recalled.
Barham was forced to spend the summer in isolation, not allowed to step foot on the Southern Illinois campus or take visits to other schools.
“The coach wouldn’t let me out of my letter of intent,” Barham said. “So, I could’t do anything really because the NCAA was on the watch.”
Within a week of each other, the two found out they would be coming to Memphis to play for Coach Pastner and the Tigers. Stephens had his AAU coach put the word out he was still available after the situation with North Texas and received a call from Pastner shortly after telling him that the Memphis staff was interested.
“I got a follow up call from Coach Pastner a couple days later offering me a scholarship,” Stephens said. “I also got calls from Western Kentucky and the University of Texas, but I ultimately decided to go with Memphis, and I’m very happy with that choice.”
Southern Illinois finally released Barham from his commitment less than a week after classes had started at Memphis. Because the release came so late, Barham was forced to walk on.
“It wasn’t the greatest situation,” Barham said. “But, I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out, getting to play for my hometown.”
Amidst it all, the two found a bond as the team’s only incoming freshman. They moved in together in Carpenter Complex and cultivated a friendship during Pastner’s first season in which the Tigers finished 24-10 and made it to the second round of the NIT.
“We were always hanging out together, practicing together–we just became really close,” Barham said.
Both players have made impressive strides on the court this season, with Stephens averaging four points and four rebounds per game. Barham is averaging 2.4 points per game and knocked down a career-high three trifectas this season against Tennessee.
Wether its a high-flying dunk from Stephens or a triple that finds nothing but net from Barham, the two are each other’s biggest fan.
“As soon as I see Drew take a shot, I’m already up in the air,” Stephens said. “I’m his biggest fan, and I always just know he’s going to make it.
***This story will appear in the third edition of the Memphis Basketball gameday program, edited by Lamar Chance and Memphis Athletic Media Relations***
Posted on January 25, 2011, in features, Memphis Athletics, memphis basketball, Memphis Tigers, NCAA Basketball and tagged basketball feature, DJ Stephens, Drew Barham, Feature Story, memphis tiger basketball, NCAA Basketball. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.