'Buckets' gets the job done for the Tigers despite oddities
By Jim Masilak
March 15, 2007
The miniature Michigan State football uniform was a gift from his father.
Christopher Douglas hoped the shiny green-and-white outfit would inspire his son, Chris Douglas-Roberts, to take an interest in football.
Young Chris was interested, all right, but only in the helmet.
"He turned it into a basketball hoop," Jason Roberts, Chris' older brother, says with an appreciative laugh.
"He would set the helmet upside down on the bed, roll up socks and shoot them into it," recalled Judy Roberts, Chris' mother.
When it comes to basketball, the University of Memphis' sophomore guard and leading scorer always has been a bit unorthodox.
Described by coaches and teammates as "awkward," "weird" and "odd" in terms of his style and on-court comportment, the 6-6, 190-pound Detroit native's game comprises a unique mixture of graft and craft.
"He has an old-school game in that he doesn't rely on pure power or pure athleticism. He just has a knack for the game," Tigers assistant Derek Kellogg said. "His game's a little unorthodox, but it's effective. ... and he's really done some special things in games when we've needed him to."
A stop-start slasher who isn't particularly quick, a shooter who is only now beginning to gain confidence in his perimeter jumper, Douglas-Roberts' strength lies in his ability to get to the basket, get his shot off and score by any means necessary.
As comfortable dribbling with his left hand as his right, Douglas-Roberts has an inimitable gift for changing speed in tight spaces while on the drive and for improvising once he takes to the air.
A prime example came last month at Gonzaga, where Douglas-Roberts' off-balance runner with 5.6 seconds left lifted the Tigers (30-3) to a one-point overtime victory.
"He's got an odd game, but he gets the job done," senior guard Jeremy Hunt said. "He's one of the best finishers around the goal I've ever seen, period."
"He has a whole repertoire of untraditional shots," adds Kellogg. "If he held a camp or clinic on how to shoot those shots, he'd make a fortune."
Douglas-Roberts honed those skills playing street ball on Detroit playgrounds, inside the old Kronk Gym -- famous foremost as a training ground for champion boxers -- and against his brother and his friends.
"When he was younger he was real little, so we'd put a lot of people around the basket and have him try to get his shot off," said Jason, who's 11 years his brother's senior. "We wouldn't let him, of course, but I think that helped him."
Chris didn't remain little for long, experiencing a 41/2 -inch growth spurt between his freshman and sophomore years in high school.
While Douglas-Roberts' vertical upgrade gave him an edge in contests against his brother, it may also be responsible for another signature aspect of his game: With his hunched shoulders, angular frame and an exaggerated hitch in his giddyup, Douglas-Roberts can appear rather ungainly at times.
"He's the most awkward person I've ever seen in my life," sophomore forward Robert Dozier said, "but he gets the job done. He gets the ball in the hole, he plays good defense. When he gets it going, not too many guys in the country can stop him."
Still, Douglas-Roberts' unusual posture and mannerisms have been known to inspire some fun among his teammates.
"He kind of walks funny and he kind of runs funny," Dozier said. "We used to tease him about it last year -- we'd be like, 'Why does he run like this and lean to his right like that?' -- but that's him."
Dozier said the Tigers also figured out that, when Douglas-Roberts is fatigued on the court, he has a tendency to stick his arms up and out from his side "like a robot."
Apprised of his teammate's crack, Douglas-Roberts laughs out loud.
"They caught me one time on film when my arms were like that," he says, wincing at the memory. "All that stuff, I don't know what it is or why I do it. It's just me."
A first-team All-Conference USA selection while averaging 15.4 points and 3.4 rebounds per game this season, Douglas-Roberts has emerged as the go-to player for the Tigers, the No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament's South Region.
When the UofM opens NCAA play in New Orleans on Friday morning with a first-round game against 15th-seeded North Texas (23-10), the player nicknamed 'Buckets' -- a nod to his uncanny scoring ability -- will lead from the front.
Douglas-Roberts shoots at an excellent 54.4-percent clip from the field, has improved his 3-point shooting (36.5 percent, up from 31.0 a year ago) and is the team's most accurate free-throw shooter (72.4 percent).
He has also developed into one of the Tigers' best man-on-man defenders, as evidenced by his excellent performance against Houston's Robert McKiver (seven points, 12 below his average) in the Conference USA championship game,
There was a time, though, when Tigers coach John Calipari had his doubts about Buckets.
When Douglas-Roberts played for the Detroit-based AAU team The Family and was being recruited by the UofM, Calipari gave the player a long, hard look before extending a scholarship offer.
"He didn't play hard, didn't play with any kind of passion," Calipari recalled. "Then all of a sudden I'd see a couple things where it's like, 'Wow, if I could ever get him to play hard, he could do some things.'"
Calipari now likes to compare Douglas-Roberts to former New York Knicks star Earl 'The Pearl' Monroe, another player known for his circus-like shots.
But Douglas-Roberts, who suppresses his strongest streetball urges "because you can't play like that here," grew up admiring a less flamboyant player -- former Michigan State standout and NBA All-Star Steve Smith.
"I idolized him because he was from Detroit and he was a big guard. He had that angular type of game like mine," said Douglas-Roberts, who otherwise struggles to describe his style of play.
"He's smooth but it looks awkward," Jason adds helpfully. "It's hard to explain and I think that's why it's hard to defend."
Beneath the sometimes unpolished exterior, Calipari says, is a player with a vast amount of talent.
"He's really skilled and he has a feel for the game," the coach said. "He's so skilled, he never has to have his head down. He has really long arms and he has ways of getting the ball in the basket when you're struggling."
While Douglas-Roberts admits to looking a bit "different" out on the floor, he isn't making any apologies.
"It's working for me and I've become a fan favorite," he says. "I've gotten this far with that kind of game. I wouldn't change it for anything."
-- Jim Masilak
Today's NCAA games on WREG-TV (3)
Times are approximate
(6) Louisville vs. (11) Stanford, 11:40 a.m.
(3) Texas A&M vs. (14) Penn, 1:45 p.m.
(6) Vanderbilt vs. (11) George Washington, 3:55 p.m.
(6) Duke vs. (11) Virginia Commonwealth, 6:10 p.m.
(1) North Carolina vs. (16) Eastern Kentucky, 8:40 p.m.
Tickets for games in New Orleans are still available through Ticketmaster. Users will be asked to select or click on "go to event" and enter the city of the event as "New Orleans." A pop-up will appear that will say, "Fans of Memphis," and fans will be required to enter the password, "Tigers." The tickets offered are all-session tickets priced at $148 plus a Ticketmaster service fee.