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Thursday, October 18, 2007

USA Today - Off-Court Problems Don't Deter Calipari, Memphis

Off-court problems don't deter Calipari, Memphis

By Marlen Garcia, USA TODAY

MEMPHIS — Joey Dorsey has an enviable role as a starting forward for Memphis' men's basketball team, a national power in recent seasons and a probable top-five choice when the 2007-08 USA TODAY/ESPN preseason coaches' poll comes out Oct. 26.
The senior is an immovable piece of steel on the court, a 6-9, 260-pound chiseled forward and one of the country's leading rebounders and shot blockers who averaged 8.5 points, 9.4 rebounds and 2.2 blocked shots per game last season. Off the court, he is trying coach John Calipari's considerable patience.

Dorsey is expected to anchor a starting unit also consisting of 6-6 junior guard Chris Douglas-Roberts (team-leading 15.4 points per game last season), 6-9 junior forward Robert Dozier, 6-6 junior guard Antonio Anderson and heralded 6-4 freshman point guard Derrick Rose. With so many experienced players back from teams that reached the NCAA tournament Elite Eight the past two seasons, a chance at the Final Four — or better — seems within reach.

Calipari is crossing his fingers that Dorsey doesn't blow the opportunity. Dorsey has a penchant for partying at some of Memphis' popular clubs, and although Calipari is known for giving players countless chances despite behavior problems, Dorsey is on Calipari's last nerve.

"Everything that's been in the bank has been used," Calipari says. "It would be a sad day for me if I say, 'Joey, you're not here anymore.' "

Calipari doesn't elaborate on Dorsey's problems, but Dorsey's visit to a Memphis nightclub last month ended up in the news and with two of his teammates facing charges. Dorsey was named a suspect in a simple assault at a club Sept. 2, but charges were not filed against him, according to Memphis police spokeswoman Monique Martin.

Martin says a nightclub employee told police Dorsey jumped on the bar and began throwing money at customers. When Dorsey was asked by a security guard to step down from the bar, he allegedly swung at the guard but missed. Another security guard who came over allegedly was struck in the face by Dorsey and was treated at the scene for bruises. Martin says one security guard refused to press charges; the other did not have an independent witness to verify his story.

At Conference USA's media day last week, Dorsey denied hitting anyone but acknowledged throwing money, The (Memphis) Commercial Appeal reported.

"I had fun with my teammates, maybe too much fun," Dorsey, 23, tells USA TODAY. "I apologize to the city of Memphis. It won't happen again."

Charges for others

The chaos from the bar that night spilled onto the street and 20 officers responded to disperse a crowd, Martin says. There was no sign of Dorsey. "He apparently fled," she says. Sophomore forward Shawn Taggart and freshman guard Jeff Robinson were arrested.

Taggart, eligible to play after sitting out last season as a transfer from Iowa State, faces misdemeanor charges of disorderly conduct and inciting a riot. Robinson, a consensus top-50 recruit, faces the same charges plus simple assault against a police officer. They pleaded innocent and will be in court Nov. 6. Jennifer Donnals, spokeswoman for Shelby County district attorney Bill Gibbons, says the prosecutor's office is "trying to work out a resolution" with the defendants' lawyer, Leslie Ballin. Ballin's office said he was in court and unavailable for comment.

Calipari says he plans to punish the players, though part of the penalty may not be public.

"How about your mug shots in the newspaper here, on the television here?" Calipari asks. "How about your mug shot in your hometown? That starts the penalty. The other thing, our penalty, we see as the facts unfold."

In the incident's aftermath, Calipari instituted a midnight curfew for the team and a ban from nightclubs. Sunday, six weeks after the incident, athletics department spokesman Lamar Chance said via e-mail the curfew is being lifted. As for the nightclub ban, Chance said, "It is still understood they (the players) are not to be seen in a place that primarily serves alcohol."

Calipari makes no apologies for giving players second chances, and some players have made turnarounds. Jeremy Hunt, the team's second-leading scorer last season, was dismissed from the team in early October 2005 after being involved with two assaults in less than a year, but Calipari reinstated him in late August 2006 after Hunt earned his degree that month in university college/African American community and sports education.

"I would rather have me wait too long for a kid that ends up hurting my program and have people looking at me in the evil-eye way … than cutting a kid loose too soon and costing him," Calipari says.

The coach has athletics director R.C. Johnson's support. "Those programs that are really successful, you have to step outside the box and be flexible," Johnson says. "I have no concerns about anything being irregular or illegal. (Calipari's) reputation and image is so high, he's not going to jeopardize that."

Those close to Dorsey see past his sullied image. "Just because you make bad decisions, it doesn't mean you're evil," team chaplain Ken Bennett says. "It's hard when you're that young and you're a rock star."

Says Douglas-Roberts: "He's probably one of the best teammates I've had. He comes off as one thing to the media, but to us, he cares about the team."

Dorsey, raised by his mother Charlene in Baltimore, came to Memphis via Laurinburg (N.C.) Prep. He considers Calipari a father figure. "I definitely love him as a dad," Dorsey says.

Calipari says Dorsey has emotional issues. "He doesn't know how to deal with confrontation," Calipari says. "If you think he preys on smaller people, that's not what he is. He's immature at times. But he's good-hearted. He was over at my house playing video games with my son for three hours. My wife loves having him around.

"Does he do some of the dumbest stuff I've ever seen? Yeah, just like my own children."

Another 'Big Ben'?

Dorsey is talking about a new start. He hopes to follow in the footsteps of Ben Wallace, the Chicago Bulls' 6-9 center who has made millions in the NBA based on his defensive presence and rebounding. Dorsey has changed his jersey number this season from 32 to 3, the number Wallace wears.

"I want to show that there is another Ben Wallace out there," he says.

He wants to make amends for blunders, one of which came late last season. Before Memphis played Ohio State and star 7-foot center Greg Oden in the NCAA tournament Elite Eight, Dorsey said, "I'm an underrated big man and he's a lot overrated as a big man."

Oden scored 17 points, on seven of eight shooting, to Dorsey's zero as Memphis lost, 92-76.

"It was a bad game at a bad time," Dorsey says.

That case of bad judgment was a comical error compared to the serious trouble he allegedly caused last month. But he says those days are over. Joey Dorsey, the problem child, is gone.

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