Memphis' Kemp seizes opportunity
By Mike DeCourcy, Sporting News
Posted September 6, 2007
As a freshman point guard for Memphis last season, Willie Kemp started 36 of 37 games. And in what surely must be some kind of land speed record, he lost that job even before he stepped on the court in a Tigers uniform.
Kemp was the Tigers' top recruit in the 2006 class, but McDonald's All-American Derrick Rose was the top recruit for 2007. Rose signed with Memphis last November, shortly before the team opened with a home victory over Jackson State. There was no doubt Rose, considered a vital piece of a national championship contender, would be running the team from the moment he walked onto campus.
Kemp's response to this circumstance has been atypical, to say the least.
For starters -- oops, sorry Willie -- he stayed in the program.
The common thing to do would have been to transfer. Instead, Kemp stuck around and worked to make himself better suited to contribute in the role that would be available to him as a sophomore. Though he shot 38.6 percent from 3-point range as a freshman and hit 5-of-7 in the Tigers' two games at the NCAA South Region at San Antonio, Kemp spent much of his offseason trying to establish himself as a go-to shooter. He knew there would be a chance to play as a shooting guard in tandem with Rose, and so he aimed in that direction.
"He's the most responsible, conscientious player that I've coached," said Tigers coach John Calipari. "Willie's going to play because of how he is."
Calipari promises there'll be minutes for Kemp, because those minutes are being earned and because it is certainly best for the future of the program and probably best for the present.
Future: When do-everything forward Chris Douglas-Roberts leaves, probably after his junior season ends this March or April, Kemp will be prepared to step in as a certified team leader.
Present: If the Tigers' Dribble-Drive Motion offense is going to work, some of those open 3-pointers that develop from drive-and-kick action must be converted. The Tigers don't have anybody back who topped Kemp's 51 threes last season. By comparison, Florida's Lee Humphrey hit 113. So if Kemp can deliver in this category, he would be a huge part of his team's success.
Memphis has a lot of guys who've shown they can make a shot -- including Douglas-Roberts, Doneal Mack, perhaps even Antonio Anderson -- but none who would be considered a proven shooter.
Kemp turned out to be a capable shooter under intense pressure by the close of his freshman season. Calipari admits he threw a lot on Kemp at the start of last season because he needed a point guard, and it was a struggle at first. After 11 games, the Tigers were 8-3 and he was 13-of-46 from long range. As they went 25-1 the rest of the way, he shot 38-of-86 (44.2 percent). His 3-pointer at the start of a 10-0 run might have been the most important basket in a comeback victory over Texas A&M in the NCAA round of 16.
He'll get even better looks at the basket this year playing with Rose, who is as gifted a passer as any point guard in Division I. Kemp will be the primary backup at point guard. Although Memphis' high-energy approach assures just about everyone who can play will play, Kemp will have to prove he deserves a spot in the rotation along with -- or possibly ahead of -- Anderson and Mack.
Based on how he's handled his "demotion" so far, he's earned a shot.