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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Tigers' madness never stops, Basketball team kept plenty busy in offseason

Tigers' madness never stops
Basketball team kept plenty busy in offseason
By Dan Wolken
Thursday, October 11, 2007

For most basketball programs around the country, the seven months that separate March Madness and Midnight Madness are calm retreat from which they can emerge in October reinvented and refreshed.

At the University of Memphis, however, the madness did not stop. From John Calipari's globetrotting to the arrival of freshman phenom Derrick Rose to record ticket sales and unbridled hype to a September incident on Beale Street that landed two players in court, barely a week went by without the Tigers being part of this city's consciousness.

"It's definitely what I thought I'd get and much more," junior forward Robert Dozier said Wednesday, describing the remarkable attention the team has gotten this summer. "I expected to come in and win and change the program around with my classmates, and it's been a tremendous ride."

Though the coaches have not changed, the players have barely changed and aspirations of a national championship are still intact, Friday's Memphis Madness will indeed be a symbolic celebration of a new season.

Here are four things to know about Memphis Madness, which begins at 8p.m. Friday at FedExForum.

1. For a lot of Memphis fans in the city, Friday may be the only opportunity to see the Tigers in person this season. As of Wednesday afternoon, the school was down to about 260 unsold season tickets. Once they're gone, that's it for the year.

The only single-game tickets that will be available are unclaimed student seats. Plus, getting into Memphis Madness is pretty cheap: It's free, though canned food donations are encouraged, and seats will be available.

In most years, Memphis can expect a crowd of about 10,000 fans at Memphis Madness.

Coach John Calipari said he was hoping for "12,000 to 15,000 or more" on Friday, given the excitement about this team, which is ranked No.1 or No. 2 in several preseason polls.

And a full house would likely make a positive impression on the long list of elite recruits who will be in attendance.

2. So, who are the recruits? Well, basically every high school player from Memphis who is on the Tigers' radar has been confirmed as a guest at Memphis Madness. That includes St. George's guard Elliot Williams, who will be making his official visit to the Tigers.

Williams, a consensus top20 senior in the nation according to scouting services, has already visited Virginia, Duke and Tennessee and is expected to make his decision after the Memphis visit.

Briarcrest junior guard Leslie McDonald and White Station junior forward Farrakohn Hall -- both consensus top-75 players -- headline a long list of underclassmen coming to Memphis Madness, which also includes: Gentry Hines (Raleigh-Egypt), Tim Peete (Central), Greg Wooten (Briarcrest), Joe Jackson (White Station), Bobby Parks Jr. (Ridgeway) and Mardracus Wade (Mitchell), among others.

Memphis also will have out-of-town visitors from the 2009 high school class, including Christian Watford from Birmingham and Xavier Henry from Oklahoma City. Watford, a 6-7 small forward, is rated in the top 50 by most scouting services and is also very good friends with DeMarcus Cousins, a consensus top-five player in the class. Cousins was still considering visiting Memphis Madness as of Wednesday.

This will be Henry's second straight visit to Memphis Madness. A 6-6 guard rated No. 2 in the junior class by Scout.com, Henry's favorites appear to be Memphis and Kansas at this point. His father, Carl Henry, played at Kansas when Calipari was an assistant there.

Durand Scott, a 6-4 guard from New York rated as a top-50 junior, also is likely to be in Memphis on an unofficial visit this weekend.

All told, that's between five and seven potential McDonald's All-Americans.

3. The evening begins at 6:30 p.m. with a performance by the Memphis band and cheerleaders on the FedExForum plaza. Doors will open at 7 p.m., and players will be available for autographs until roughly 7:50 p.m. At 8 p.m. players will be introduced, and festivities will continue until about 9:30 p.m.

At some point in the event, Memphis will introduce the 15Chinese coaches who are in town observing the Tigers as part of Calipari's coaches' exchange. A few of the coaches, who played in the Chinese Basketball Association, will have a 3-point shooting contest against Memphis' players. The Tigers also will have a dunk contest and finish with a short intra-squad scrimmage.

4. Though the entire Midnight Madness tradition began in 1971 when Lefty Driesell held a real practice at Maryland just after midnight on Oct. 15, it's now nothing more than a showcase. In fact, the NCAA has even changed the rules to allow the madness to begin the evening before the official day when teams can start practicing.

As for the Tigers, the scrimmage will be organized, but probably not quite full speed. That's because they'll have to get up early Saturday morning to begin the real work with a string of two-a-day practices. Still, fans should be able to get just enough of a glimpse to whet their appetites for the Nov. 5 season opener.

"Our fans know this team," Calipari said. "They'll know how we play, but what they're wanting to see is the new guys too. Who got stronger from the old players? Who's better than they were a year ago? Who's improved?

"And then they'll want to see, what about this Derrick Rose kid, this Jeff Robinson kid and this Shawn Taggart kid? They'll want to leave the building saying, man, is Antonio Anderson better? Robert Dozier is so much stronger. That's what they'll want to say, and then they'll try to figure out where the other guys are."

Reach Dan Wolken at 529-2365; read his blogs on Tiger basketball at thememphisedge.com.

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