Injury could force rare lineup shuffle
Douglas-Roberts ailing so starting five may be altered
By Jim Masilak
January 18, 2007
Even when perfectly healthy, Chris Douglas-Roberts walks with a bit of a limp.
After re-aggravating a right ankle sprain in the University of Memphis' 79-54 victory over UAB on Tuesday -- making him questionable for Saturday's trip to East Carolina -- Douglas-Roberts has an even more pronounced hitch in his giddy-up.
Should the sophomore guard be unable to play against the Pirates, it would force the Tigers coach John Calipari to do something he hasn't done all season:
Change his starting lineup.
In the early days of Calipari's tenure at Memphis, constant change was one of the few constants.
Injuries, suspensions and a lack of personnel, among other factors, forced Calipari not to tweak his first five but to overhaul it on a regular basis.
Calipari gave starting nods to at least nine different players in each of his first six seasons with the Tigers. A whopping 12 players started at least once in 2002-03, while 11 did so in 2001-02.
It was hardly an ideal platform upon which to build a cohesive unit, as fifth-year senior guard Jeremy Hunt recalls.
"In the past, we were playing seven guys at the most. We didn't have anybody else to back them up, and even then things were changing all the time," Hunt said before practice Wednesday at the Finch Center. "It's good to know now that you've got a full team of guys who are playing every night, and who give us a chance to win."
In guards Antonio Anderson, Douglas-Roberts and Willie Kemp, and forwards Robert Dozier and Joey Dorsey, the No. 17-ranked Tigers (14-3, 4-0 in Conference USA) boast one of the most stable starting units in the country.
Of the 16 teams ranked ahead of the Tigers in this week's Associated Press Top 25 poll, only four -- No. 2 Wisconsin, No. 6 Pittsburgh, No. 8 Texas A&M and No. 11 Arizona -- have put out the same starting five in every game this season.
"If you're performing well, Cal's gonna stick with you," Dorsey said. "If you're not performing well but you're playing hard, Cal's gonna stick with you.
"But if you're not playing hard or buying into what he says, you're not gonna play."
Part of the Tigers' newfound continuity is a product of avoiding injuries, which they had done successfully until Douglas-Roberts tweaked his ankle in a recent win over Houston.
Douglas-Roberts, who lasted just 90 seconds against UAB, underwent an MRI on Wednesday that did not reveal any structural or ligament damage to his right ankle.
The injury was also confirmed as a sprain rather than a potentially more serious high ankle sprain.
The Tigers' leading scorer will continue to receive treatment and will be reevaluated before the team departs Friday for Greenville, N.C.
As much as Calipari values the Tigers' newfound continuity, the quality of their depth provides plenty of options should the need to spell a player like Douglas-Roberts arise.
"If you're talking I've started the same five the whole time, it's nice," Calipari said. "But what's even more important, I could start Andre (Allen) in front of Willie, or Jeremy in front of either of those guys. Or Doneal Mack.
"I could go with Kareem (Cooper) instead of Joey (Dorsey). It keeps them all honest."
Calipari's success in getting this group of players to embrace their roles is embodied by Hunt, the team's sixth man and second-leading scorer.
"Even if he was to bring it up to me about starting, I'd say, 'No, I'm cool,'" Hunt said. "Coming off the bench, I've gotten so used to it now. Everybody's getting the same amount of playing time anyway so it doesn't really matter who starts."
With Hunt the only scholarship player certain not to be back next season, Calipari envisions the Tigers' stability extending into the 2007-08 season and beyond.
And it was that sort of continuity, he added, that helped mold his 1996 Final Four team at Massachusetts.
Hunt said the Tigers are enjoying the benefits of an equitable lineup during their impressive six-game winning streak.
"Everybody knows their roles and everybody's pretty much doing it right now," he said. "That's what we needed here.
"You see the results. We're playing well as a team and we're blowing people out."
-- Jim Masilak: 529-2311
Next for No. 17 Tigers
Opponent: East Carolina
When, where: Saturday, 5 p.m. CST, at Greenville, N.C.
See Tigers' future on ESPN tonight
University of Memphis signee Derrick Rose and his Chicago Simeon teammates will take on perennial prep power Oak Hill Academy tonight at 8 p.m. in a game televised by ESPN.
Rose already played in one high-profile game this week, a 53-51 Simeon loss to Manhattan Rice last Sunday at Madison Square Garden.