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Saturday, October 14, 2006

Cal's Mission for Pre-Season: Find Replacement Talent

Calipari's mission for preseason drills: Find replacement talent

By Dan Wolken, Memphis Commercial Appeal
October 14, 2006

This is what John Calipari hears: That the University of Memphis, despite losing Shawne Williams, Rodney Carney and Darius Washington, could actually be better this season than last. But this is what Calipari sees: A program coming off an Elite Eight appearance that must replace 56 percent of its scoring, doesn't have a proven go-to star and will rely heavily on freshmen and sophomores.

"People are trying to tell me we're better than a year ago," the seventh-year Tigers coach said. "You've got to be drug tested. We were really good. ... We have a pretty deep team, a young team again and it's one of those, 'Boy, I hope we're good.' It's one of those kinds of teams." The journey from hope to reality officially began at FedExForum on Friday night at Memphis Madness, which was more of a showcase than a legitimate practice session.

The real work will begin at the Finch Center today and continue in earnest leading up to the Tigers' first exhibition game Nov. 2 against LeMoyne-Owen. In that time, the Tigers will have to deal with as many unknowns as knowns on a roster that appears deep and talented but has just one senior and two juniors.

"We lost (56) percent of our offense, and people are counting us out," junior guard Andre Allen said. "But they don't know what kind of team we've got. We've got a great team."

Fans got their first look at exactly what Memphis has during Friday's events, which included player introductions, a dunk contest (won by junior forward Joey Dorsey), and a short scrimmage.

In some ways, they were asking the same questions that Calipari is asking: Who's going to make the clutch plays late in games the way Washington, Williams and Carney did?

"Those three guys could get their own shot at any time and change the complexion of a game," Calipari said. "They took some bad shots, but man did they make big shots. They may have taken bad shots, but they made half of them. We're going to miss those.

"We may have to play a little different, may have to press a little more, may have to take one more drive or two more drives before we shoot the ball. We may have to be the best offensive rebounding team in the country. There's things we may have to do to be as good as we were last year, and it's hard. You just don't win 30 games many times."

Though the Tigers acknowledge they aren't the same team, they say they have at least carried over the chemistry from last season. Sophomore guard Antonio Anderson said the team has spent so much time together off the court -- eating lunch on campus together, for instance -- that other students have asked: What's up with the basketball team?

"But there's nothing wrong with that," Anderson said. "We're trying to win a championship so that's all it is."

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