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Monday, October 15, 2007

AP Story - Tigers open practice on promising season

"(AP) Tigers open practice on promising season"

The video highlights on the scoreboard were a celebration of last season's Elite Eight run by the Memphis Tigers.

For the thousands of Tiger fans who showed up Friday night for Memphis Madness, there was hope the footage was a preview of even more success.

Memphis, which reached the regional finals of the NCAA Tournament last year, opened the doors on a new season with a freewheeling, fun-filled exhibition to tip-off practice for its 2007-08 campaign.

There was dancing, flipping, cheering, music, a dunk contest, 3-point shooting display and a 15-minute scrimmage to serve as an appetizer for the season "It's an anticipated season," said 6-foot-7 junior guard Chris Douglas-Roberts. "Everybody in the city wants to see what we're all about."

The faithful, estimated at 11,500, cheered the players. They cheered coach John Calipari. They cheered the hoisting of the Elite Eight banner to the rafters of the FedExForum. Public address announcer Chuck Roberts put so much into the introductions of the squad, his voice was gone after four players, and he had to call for a substitute.

Calipari said the video and raising the banner gave him chills, but he acknowledged that was the past, and they were looking to the future.

"You don't know whereit's going," Calipari told the crowd, "but it looks like it's going to a lot of fun."

Around the rest of Tennessee, other teams opened the fall season more quietly.

Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings, fresh off a 66-65 loss to Georgetown in the NCAA tournament regional semifinals, took advantage of a rule allowing two hours of team workouts in the offseason and timed the Commodores' first workout for 4 p.m. CDT.

But a homecoming concert by hip-hop artist Kanye West in Memorial Gym forced the Commodores to their practice court.

Construction on a new practice facility at Tennessee isn't done yet, so no bands or fans for the defendingnational champion Lady Vols or Bruce Pearl's men's team. The Lady Vols were scheduled for a closed practice late Friday afternoon followed by the men, who lost to Ohio State 85-84 in their own NCAA tournament regional semifinal in March.

The Middle Tennessee women, who finished last season ranked 17th nationally, planned their own practice Friday night in Murfreesboro followed by signing autographs for fans.

The Tigers, the defending Conference USA regular season and tournament champions, finished last year 33-4 after losing 92-76 to Ohio State in the South Regional championship game _ the second straight season Memphis made the Elite Eight.

Assoon as the pain of not reaching the Final Four subsided, the promise of this season emerged. All five starters, including Douglas-Roberts, the preseason C-USA player of the year, return, along with the addition of freshman point guard Derrick Rose, a McDonald's All-America.

Rose drew one of the biggest ovations of the night on a dunk where he bounced the ball high, went up and got it, cradled it between his legs and threw down a reverse jam.

"It was like a regular dunk. I just threw it up there," Rose said.

"He called that a regular dunk," Douglas-Roberts said shaking his head.

The returnees, the recruits and the regional finalexperience have many expecting the Tigers to enter the season ranked among the nation's best. It's an anticipation the players understand. They've heard all the talk about their potential during the offseason, and are looking forward to living up to the accolades.

"We've put that hype on ourselves," Douglas-Roberts said. "We're the ones that have the "national championship-or-nothing" attitude.

Copyright 2007 by the Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

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