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Monday, September 24, 2007

Curfew a Blessing in Disguise for Tigers

Curfew a blessing in disguise for Tigers
Calipari's rules bring players closer together
By Dan Wolken
Sunday, September 23, 2007

At first, Tiger junior forward Robert Dozier admitted, it was hard to get used to the team's early curfew and other restrictions. But now he says the team will benefit from coach Cal's directive.

The punishment, at first, seemed severe. To the 18-to-23 year olds who populate the University of Memphis basketball team, the restrictions placed on them appeared a brutal sentence.

But three weeks after coach John Calipari instituted a curfew and a no-nightclub policy in the wake of an ugly incident on Beale Street, several players said the adjustment hasn't been as rough as expected.

"We thought it was going to be real bad at first, but when we look at it, it's not as bad," junior guard Chris Douglas-Roberts said. "It makes us closer, helps our chemistry. We find things to do. It's not like we're a team that doesn't like each other anyway, so that just helps us. It's all basketball now, and that's not doing nothing but helping us.

"Curfew, it's like a blessing in disguise."

Of course, the Tigers didn't have much of a choice but to accept their fate when Calipari met with his team Sept. 2 and laid down his strictest set of laws in his 16 years as a college head coach.

Earlier that morning, at roughly 3 a.m., freshman Jeff Robinson and sophomore Shawn Taggart were arrested outside the Plush Club and charged with disorderly conduct and inciting a riot for their roles in a large-scale disturbance. (Robinson was also charged with misdemeanor assault.)

Senior Joey Dorsey was named in the police report as the player who started the melee, but he was not on the scene when officers arrived, and no witnesses have come forward to file charges against him.

Taggart and Robinson have pleaded not guilty to their charges; they are due back in court Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Calipari took immediate action to ensure his players wouldn't find more trouble late at night. He set a curfew of 11 p.m. during the week, midnight on the weekends. He banned them from going to bars and nightclubs, even asking Memphians to snap cell phone pictures if his players are somewhere they're not supposed to be. And he issued a stern warning about not being the first one to violate his new rules.

Calipari admitted he had perhaps given his players too much freedom before. But with so much on the line -- the Tigers are openly campaigning to be ranked No. 1 in the preseason -- the players agreed that there is comfort in their new social structure.

"It's probably the best thing for us," junior forward Robert Dozier said. "We've been so tired, you don't want to do nothing after 9 or 10 (p.m.) anyway. Guys are getting used to it. Hopefully, it will pay off in the long run."

One factor making the curfew easier is that the Tigers can suffer through it as a group. With all the players living together in an on-campus townhouse, they said it has been a lot of video games, a lot of DVDs and a lot of talking.

"We just sit around, joke, have fun and socialize," Taggart said. "We're getting to know each other more and more, getting to be more close-knit by the day. It's a good thing for us. We don't need to be out there. Like coach said, there ain't nothing good out there at 3 o'clock. Sometimes we come into the gym at night, play two-dribbles-and-shoot, do extra workouts, then by curfew we're back in the room resting."

With all the publicity the curfew received, junior guard Antonio Anderson said people will question the players practically any time they leave the townhouse. But the biggest consequence so far, Anderson said, has been an unexpected one: cell phone bills.

"Everybody's talking a lot, going over their minutes," Anderson said, laughing. "We sit in the house, play video games, joke on each other. That's pretty much all we do."

-- Dan Wolken: 529-2365

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