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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Story on Robert Dozier

U of M's Dozier grows into basketball and adds strength

By Dan Wolken
October 24, 2006

He looks like he was born to play this game, with long arms that seemingly reach to his knees, with balance and flexibility that make even his dead-sprint look natural. And oh, just try to find a flaw in that soft jump shot. But not so long ago, University of Memphis sophomore Robert Dozier was a 6-1 high school freshman more interested in fastballs than basketballs.

"I was a better baseball player than I was at basketball," Dozier said. "I played it in ninth grade, but I didn't really think I could be something." It's now very apparent that Dozier could be anything.

It's apparent to the NBA scouts, who buzz every time he stretches out his 6-9 frame into a 7-3 wingspan. It's apparent to those close to the program, who are counting on Dozier to be the breakout star the Tigers need to live up to their top-15 expectations.

And most of all, it's now apparent to Dozier, who at first wasn't sure whether growing six inches between ninth and 10th grade was a blessing or a curse.

"I was a pitcher, first baseman and catcher," Dozier said of his baseball career.

"But in one summer I was 6-1 and grew to 6-7. I got too tall for baseball, so I didn't really have a choice."

Lewis Jones, Dozier's coach at Lithonia High just outside Atlanta, said he could sense that Dozier wasn't enjoying his new body or the game.

"He was somewhat ... not uncoordinated, but kind of clumsy," Jones said.

"I didn't see the enthusiasm until he became successful at it. Basketball kind of grew on him. He was never un-adept, but when he knew he could excel at it, it was like he just took off."

It might be time for a re-launch.

As a freshman last year, Dozier played 18 minutes a game, but with Shawne Williams playing the same position, his potential only materialized in short stretches. His signature game? A 13-point, 15-rebound effort at Marshall.

In the process, Dozier discovered something about himself: It was time for another growth spurt, fueled by bench presses and protein shakes.

This time, the tally was 15 pounds of muscle, which he said made a world of difference when he went to Atlanta for an adidas camp in July and played effectively against the likes of Florida center Joakim Noah.

But coach John Calipari said Dozier needs to add even more size to realize the NBA potential he appears to have.

"He's just physically not ready," Calipari said. "That physical and mental just grittiness, a lot of it is going to come as he lifts weights and you see him now over there lifting before practice. He knows.

"He's oozing with talent, but he's going to have to take advantage of what he's been given."
Though Dozier already has a range of skills -- his defense, shot-blocking, and rebounding were evident last year -- his offensive game appears ready to blossom.

Dozier worked much of the summer on his 3-point shot -- "Last year, I shot horrible from the 3-point line (6-for-27), and I know I'm a much better shooter than that," he said -- and claims his increased strength will translate to more layups.

"Now that I've gained this extra weight, with my length, my shots are a lot easier," Dozier said. "I use my length, and I take the bump and just stretch out. Last year, when I took the bump and stretched out, the ball would come out of my hand. This year, it stays in, and I lay it in. The game's a lot easier for me."

Or maybe Dozier will simply follow the same path he did in high school, morphing from clumsy freshman to a potential NBA player in just a couple short years.

"Guys with that kind of talent, usually they let everybody know it," Jones, his high school coach, said. "But he was the kind of leader, he made everybody else feel like they're a part. He'd share the ball, worked hard on defense, but when the time came to take over, he took over. He's probably the most unselfish player I've ever coached."

-- Dan Wolken: 901-529-2365

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