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Thursday, November 16, 2006

Who Will Emerge as the Tigers Go-To Guy?


On deep, talented Tiger roster, go-to player must emerge

By Dan Wolken
November 16, 2006

Scan those preseason magazines for their list of the top 20 power forwards in the nation. Rest assured, University of Memphis sophomore Robert Dozier's name won't come up.

Go ahead and look for Joey Dorsey to be listed among the nation's elite centers or freshman Willie Kemp mentioned as one of the 25 best point guards. But it would be a waste of time.

Perhaps the most complimented player on this year's Tiger roster is sophomore guard Chris Douglas-Roberts. And that came by virtue of ESPN's Andy Katz, who listed him among the country's most underrated players. (If Douglas-Roberts was rated in the first place, he wouldn't have been on the list.)

And yet, as Memphis opens its season at FedExForum tonight against Jackson State, the Tigers are a consensus top-20 team, ranked No. 13 in the two major national polls.

But it's a bit of an anomaly that they enter the season ranked so highly without a player who is widely regarded as one of the country's best at his respective position.

So the question over the next four-plus months isn't whether Memphis has a signature star.
It's whether the Tigers will need one to meet the expectations that have been heaped on them locally and nationally.

"To be a good team, you have to have some guys that are considered stars," Douglas-Roberts said. "Whatever you want to call it, there has to be go-to guys on the team."

A number of times during the preseason, coach John Calipari has acknowledged that the defining issue for this team will be whether players who were in supporting roles last season can elevate their contributions and become stars.

Though it's been obvious in practice that Douglas-Roberts, Dozier and sophomore guard Antonio Anderson have separated themselves from the rest of the team in terms of star potential, the fact remains that none of them averaged 10 points per game last year.

Anderson, who Calipari has referred to in recent days as perhaps Memphis' best player, averaged 7.2 points and 3.4 rebounds as a freshman. He didn't get a sniff on Conference USA's preseason all-league team.

But there's been a feeling around the Finch Center that the lack of a marquee name could ultimately help the Tigers if they can define themselves as a team deep in very good players with different stars emerging depending on the opponent and the situation.

"We've got a lot of guys that are capable of going out and getting 20 on a given night," senior guard Jeremy Hunt said. "You never know where it's going to come from. If you've got one person on the team, the (opposition) is going to come in and focus on that one player.

"We've got a team full of guys that can score and can play. And it's hard to play a team like that. You never know who's going to get what that night. How are you going to hold everybody?"
It's a good question.

Last year, over Memphis' 37 games, six different players led Memphis in scoring, though Dorsey did it just once and Anderson twice.

This year, besides Memphis' starting five, it's easy to envision three or four reserves as potential leading scorers, including freshmen Pierre Niles and Doneal Mack.

"If there's numerous people that can score, it's a great thing," Douglas-Roberts said. "Teams that rely on one person -- if that person doesn't show up, they usually lose.

"So if I don't show up or if (Anderson) doesn't show up or (Dozier), we have Joey Dorsey, we have Pierre. So it's a great thing for us."

But who gets the ball at the end of the game when everything is on the line and making a clutch shot is the only option? Last year, it was Rodney Carney or Darius Washington, both of whom are now gone.

There's no obvious answer now.

"This is a totally different team, and that's fine," Calipari said. "I want them to take on their own personality."

Or perhaps it simply won't matter.

Perhaps Calipari's seventh Memphis team indeed is his deepest yet.

"We're all stars," Anderson said, "In Coach's eyes and in all of our eyes.

"We feel comfortable with everybody on the court. Everybody on this team is a superstar."

-- Dan Wolken: 529-2365

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