U of M enters preseason with talented point guards
By Dan Wolken, Memphis Commercial Appeal
October 13, 2006
Before Thursday's practice at the Finch Center, a group of reporters asked University of Memphis freshman Willie Kemp who should be the Tigers' starting point guard, and Kemp said it didn't matter. Then, the same group asked the same question of junior Andre Allen, and Allen said it didn't matter.
After the two-hour practice was over, Allen explained the lack of campaigning in what has been perceived as a battle between the two: With Allen and Kemp, the Tigers appear to have different point guards for different situations. "With my game, it's getting up and down the court," Allen said. "But if we have to go to a set offense, he's a better point guard than me. In certain situations we'll be in the game at different times. Maybe we'll be in at the same time."
The reality, heading into the official start of preseason practice tonight at FedExForum, is that Allen is clearly the more polished of the two based on his showing in early season workouts and his breakout performance in last year's NCAA Tournament.
After backing up the now-departed Darius Washington last season, Allen played his best basketball in the postseason and finished with 26 assists, 10 steals and just seven turnovers in seven games spanning the Conference USA and NCAA tournaments.
But Kemp, the Bolivar Central product who chose Memphis last year after a nasty recruiting battle with Tennessee, comes with impressive credentials. Rivals scouting service rated him the 53rd-best player in the country, and Scout.com said he was "one of the biggest winners in the class of 2006."
Tigers coach John Calipari, however, said Kemp's high school resume didn't guarantee he would be first in line for point guard minutes.
"Andre is probably more experienced and more seasoned right now, but Willie's really good," Calipari said. "I'll start young guys. I'll start whoever deserves to start, but I don't really care who starts. It's who finishes.
"Willie has to be aggressive with the ball. He's got to look to score points. He can't look to just be a passer, and he's getting better."
Kemp admitted this week he's still adjusting, and it showed a few times on the court Thursday. At one point, it appeared Kemp had injured himself when he drove to the lane slightly out of control and ran into the stanchion under the backboard.
But there were also moments when Kemp looked brilliant, threading passes down the middle of the court to Joey Dorsey and Robert Dozier breaking to the rim for easy baskets.
"I'm still learning," Kemp said. "Andre's a great player, and no matter who starts, it doesn't matter. If it's him starting and me coming off the bench, I'll do that to help my team win. I know Andre will do the same thing. It's not all about starting."
Perhaps the biggest difference between Kemp and Allen right now is Allen's ability to finish off dribble penetration, a testament both to his experience and his 205 pounds of bulk on a 5-10 frame.
But Allen, a Booker T. Washington product, said Kemp's game already stacks up well.
"Willie's a real good player," Allen said. "He's got to get stronger and learn to play every play. He's got to go hard. There's no letting up on a play -- you can't do that at Division 1."
So is he ready?
"Of course he's ready," Allen said. "He's playing against me all summer. He has no choice but to be ready."
-- Dan Wolken: 901-529-2365