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Thursday, March 08, 2007

A Night of Recognition for Tigers

A night of recognition for Tigers
Douglas-Roberts, Dorsey co-MVPs

By Jim Masilak
March 5, 2007

University of Memphis basketball coach John Calipari has spoken often of late about the Tigers' quest to reach boiling point.

"We want to get to 212 degrees," Calipari said again Sunday night during the Tigers' annual awards banquet at the Holiday Inn at the University of Memphis. "We just need another (degree) now."

Not if sophomore guard Chris Douglas-Roberts' ice cube-like hands were anything to go by.

"It's freezing in here," the sophomore guard said after receiving team co-MVP honors with junior forward Joey Dorsey.

The memory of the U of M's close call at SMU in Saturday night's regular-season finale was enough to make any of the Tigers' blood run cold.

As the No. 6-ranked Tigers (27-3) prepare to defend their Conference USA tournament title later this week, they expressed relief at having completed an undefeated conference season and excitement over what's to come.

"We just wanted to get this (conference) winning streak over, all the pressure of being perfect in the conference over, so we can start with a new slate," Douglas-Roberts said. "All the talk about 16-0, it's a lot of pressure."

Owners of the nation's longest current winning streak -- 19 and counting after Saturday's 64-61 victory over the Mustangs in Dallas -- the Tigers are ready and eager to get their second season started.

"We've had a great season so far. We just have to carry it over to the tournament and keep playing great basketball," said point guard Willie Kemp, who received the Tigers' Academic Award and shared Newcomer of the Year honors with fellow freshman Doneal Mack.

Not everyone is in a hurry to start postseason play, which for the top-seeded Tigers begins Thursday at 6 p.m. with a C-USA quarterfinal meeting with either Marshall or UAB.

Senior guard Jeremy Hunt, who won the Sixth Man Award, said he's doing his best to soak up every moment of his final season with the Tigers.

"We're enjoying it right now and we're having so much fun being around each other," he said. "All the achievements and history we're making, we're just enjoying it.

"Everybody's smiling and nobody's mad. Right now it's just a beautiful moment."

Dorsey belied at least one of the Tigers' concerns about the month ahead when, unprompted, he said the team is desperate not to be sent out West again in the NCAA Tournament.

"Hopefully we'll be playing on the East Coast," he said. "I'd rather be on the East Coast than the West Coast, and so would our fans."

Earlier, upon mention of the Tigers' national-best 60 wins over the past two seasons, Calipari encouraged the team's fans to "enjoy this, because it doesn't last forever."

"This thing is gonna end," he added. "Let's hope it's in about four weeks."

Junior guard Andre Allen received the Tigers' Defensive Player of the Year award, while sophomore guard Antonio Anderson was given the Playmaker Award.

Other awards went to freshman guard Tre'Von Willis (Hustle); freshman forwards Hashim Bailey and Pierre Niles (Coach's Award); sophomore forward Kareem Cooper (Strength and Conditioning); and senior guard Jared Sandridge (Sportsmanship Award).

Senior guard Clyde Wade, whom Calipari said "has been here 19 years now," received the Perseverance Award, and sophomore forward Robert Dozier was named Most Improved Player.

Sophomore guard Chance McGrady received the Best Teammate Award, now named in honor of late Tiger booster and founder of The 7th Inning Charlie Cleaves.

Hunt, who addressed the crowd briefly and told them that "the best is yet to come," reiterated that point hopefully afterward as the players posed for pictures and signed autographs.

"It's been a fun ride, a fun year," the former Craigmont High star said. "We're looking forward to better things ahead."

-- Jim Masilak: 529-2311

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