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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Calipari bringing Tigers in for tuneup


Calipari bringing Tigers in for tuneup
Players to meet with psychologist Rotella
By Dan Wolken
Sunday, November 25, 2007

John Calipari spent three days taking the temperature of his University of Memphis team following a controversial decision to cancel Thanksgiving break. Now, he's taking them to see the doctor.

Bob Rotella, a noted sports psychologist and friend of Calipari's, was scheduled to be in town Saturday night and today to meet with players as the No. 3-ranked Tigers prepare for a monthlong stretch that will include some of their biggest games of the season.

Though the angst has apparently subsided from Tuesday, when the Tigers left FedExForum in a huff after Calipari lit into them for their lackluster effort in a 84-63 victory over Arkansas State, Calipari felt it was time to call on Rotella, who is best known for his work with PGA Tour golfers.

"I've done it with my teams in the past," Calipari said. "I did it in 1996 at UMass, and I think I've done it here once or twice. He's a sports psychologist who used to be a basketball coach.

"He teaches putting as though it were a free throw. He's very simplistic. It's not anything ridiculous. And all he tries to do is get you thinking the correct way, about yourself, about your team, about your teammates."

Though Calipari characterized Rotella merely as a resource, his visit could be another interesting turn in a season that has already needed more self-evaluation than the team's 5-0 record would indicate.

Despite winning every game by double digits and beating Connecticut for the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic title, Calipari has seen issues, perhaps to the point of paranoia.

He saw them after the Tigers played poorly in a Sept. 27 closed scrimmage against Saint Louis, he saw them after the Tigers failed to dominate Richmond in the second game of the season, he saw them in the early media blitz on freshman Derrick Rose, and he saw them after Memphis showed a lack of defensive enthusiasm against Arkansas State.

But if Calipari is guilty of micromanagement, it's only because he's doing everything possible to get Memphis ready for the rigors of a national championship run.

"We'll be doing this all season," he said. "You're either getting better or you're getting worse. You're trying to make sure you're covering your bases or sticking your head in the sand. Historically, the biggest mistake I've made in my coaching career has been that on win streaks, I duck into the sand. And I know stuff around me isn't right, but we keep winning so I don't want to mess with it.

"If we're not able to get it done, it's going to be because someone is better than us, not that we're doing something to ourselves, and I just want to keep an eye on it."

Already, Memphis has had a good dose of therapy the last few days. After Calipari's blowup Tuesday night behind closed doors, players stormed out of the locker room without speaking to the media. Apparently, they were upset that Calipari scheduled a practice for Wednesday afternoon, reversing earlier plans to let them go home for Thanksgiving.

Nobody was more distraught than leading scorer Chris Douglas-Roberts, who had purchased a plane ticket home to Detroit. But after a series of meetings Wednesday and lots of talking around the Thanksgiving dinner table, he said his relationship with Calipari was fine.

"I'm all right, you know," Douglas-Roberts said Saturday. "That was a couple days ago. I'm fine now. We all sat around with each other and chilled, ate with each other, so we're fine. It's nothing to worry about now. That's over."

Douglas-Roberts' biggest point of contention was that the Tigers, in his view, are right where they should be, especially given how early in the season it is. Though they haven't been perfect in every area, "For it to be Nov. 24, I feel we're on a pretty good track right now," he said.

As Calipari sees it, however, everybody could benefit from talking with Rotella, including himself. Whether it's Antonio Anderson's shooting percentage, Shawn Taggart's toughness in the post or the consistency of Joey Dorsey's effort, Calipari believes all the little issues he has struggled to correct can improve.

He cited as an example Dana Dingle, who struggled early in his senior year at UMass then blossomed after meeting with Rotella and helped Calipari's team reach the Final Four.

"This isn't something because I think they're all thinking wrong," he said. "If we have an opportunity to have the best in the business meet with our team and talk about living in the moment, talk about day-to-day progress, talk about simple exercises to get ready for the game to relieve stress or anything else, why wouldn't we take advantage of it?

"I don't think this team is off-kilter, I really don't. But it's a great opportunity for us to meet with him and for me to meet with him to make sure I'm thinking right in where I'm trying to go and how I'm trying to do it."

Reach Dan Wolken at 529-2365; read his blogs on the Tigers at thememphisedge.com.

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