Memphis opens season with sights on closing night
By Andy Gardiner, USA TODAY
Memphis is among a handful of schools playing on the first day of the 2007-08 men's basketball season, opening Monday night against Tennessee-Martin in the 2K College Hoops Classic. Many observers believe the Tigers will be playing on the final day of the season as well.
Coach John Calipari returns six players who averaged more than 20 minutes a game on last year's 33-4 team that reached the Elite Eight. As a bonus, freshman Derrick Rose, a Jason Kidd-type point guard, has joined the mix.
That earned Memphis the No. 3 spot in the USA TODAY/ESPN coaches' preseason poll, just eight points out of first, and third in the Associated Press balloting as well.
"The expectations here are always pretty high, but this team feels it's going to be playing on the last day," Calipari says. "The question is how hard will it work to achieve that. There are no guarantees in a one-and-done (NCAA tournament format)."
Joey Dorsey (8.5 ppg, 9.4 rpg) and Robert Dozier (9.6 ppg, 6.2 rpg) give the Tigers a pair of 6-9 leapers in the frontcourt while Chris Douglas-Roberts (15.4 ppg) and Antonio Anderson (8 ppg and a team-leading 28 minutes a game) provide a veteran backcourt. Rose, a 6-4 prodigy from Chicago, has Calipari thinking big thoughts.
"My last team at Massachusetts (the 1995-96 group that reached the Final Four) was this together, but we had a horse in (forward) Marcus Camby," Calipari says. "They talk about (Wake Forest's) Tim Duncan being the most dominating college player in the last 15 years. But I coached Camby, and I'd take him. He changed the complexion of almost every game he played in.
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"Do we have that kind of player in Derrick Rose? We don't know yet. He has the same temperament and mentality as Camby and is a great teammate like Marcus was."
Calipari loves his roster but is a long way from declaring these Tigers world beaters. Frontcourt depth is an issue, as is replacing the 14 points a game departed guard Jeremy Hunt provided.
"The physical toughness is not nearly there; the mental toughness is not there yet," he says. "We have the talent level but it's all false promises unless you improve in those other areas.
"Can Derrick be as effective as Marcus Camby at a different position? We have to hope so. Our other guys are good enough, but we need that one guy to go in whose presence will change the game."
Memphis remains the overwhelming favorite to rule Conference USA. The Tigers have gone 35-1 in the league since Louisville, Marquette, Cincinnati and DePaul left for the Big East. This season's non-conference tests include Georgetown, Arizona and Gonzaga.
Tennessee-Martin will try to derail Memphis with a roster with 10 new players from a team that went 8-23 last season.
"We might be better off playing the (NBA Memphis) Grizzlies than the Tigers this year," UT-M coach Bret Campbell says jokingly. "They are that talented and experienced.
"It's a huge challenge for our program. Our biggest goal is to be able to maintain our composure for 40 minutes against a team that is a real contender to win the national championship."