By SANTOSH VENKATARAMAN
Associated Press Sports
updated 12:36 p.m. CT, Sun., Nov. 4, 2007
John Calipari has been unable to guide Memphis to the Final Four in his first seven seasons with the Tigers. With the arrival of heralded freshman Derrick Rose, 2007-08 could represent the coach's best shot.
Rose makes his much-anticipated debut for the third-ranked Tigers as they begin the season at home against Tennessee-Martin on Monday night in the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic.
Memphis has finished 33-4 and fallen one step short of the Final Four in each of the previous two seasons. The Tigers lost 92-76 to Ohio State in the South Regional final last season.
The Tigers return all of their starters from that team, but one of them may eventually have to make way for Rose, a 6-foot-4 guard from Chicago who is a consensus top-five recruit. He was named Mr. Basketball in Illinois last season after leading Simeon High School to a second straight state championship.
"The kid is so explosive and fast," Memphis forward Joey Dorsey said. "It's like, when he gets the ball coming down the court, I just stand and watch. I just stand around and watch."
Memphis' NCAA tournament loss came to an Ohio State squad that was led by Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr. and Daequan Cook - all first-round NBA draft picks in June. That's the type of talent Rose brings to the Tigers.
"We have never been around or played with somebody who has that combination of size and speed, we have never seen it," Memphis guard Chris Douglas-Roberts said. "It's been some plays where Joey will take the ball out (during) pickup and (Rose) will just sprint and just beat everyone down the court. And we consider us a pretty fast team, and with him coming in, he just makes us more faster."
While Rose could supplant point guard Willie Kemp in time, Douglas-Roberts' spot in the lineup is secure. Named the Conference USA preseason player of the year after averaging a team-high 15.4 points a season ago, Douglas-Roberts is focused on getting the Tigers to an elusive Final Four.
"I feel we are a more experienced team," Douglas-Roberts said. "The previous two years we went to the Elite Eight and failed so we know how it feels, and we know what it takes now to get past the Elite Eight and hopefully get to the national championship."
Rose is not the only newcomer that should get significant minutes for Memphis. Iowa State transfer Shawn Taggart, a 6-foot-10 forward, will make his debut Monday while freshman guard Jeff Robinson also has a reputation as an outstanding perimeter athlete.
The Tigers have won 32 straight at home, going 19-0 there last season, including three wins in the Conference USA tournament.
Tennessee-Martin returns just one starter from a squad that went 8-23 a season ago. The Skyhawks are counting on a number of newcomers, including Memphis native Lester Hudson, who scored a team-high 32 points in a 96-83 exhibition win over Bethel College on Thursday.
"This is a great opportunity for UT Martin to have national exposure in a tournament of this caliber," Skyhawks coach Bret Campbell said. "I hope we will take advantage of it."
The Tigers are 10-3 against the Skyhawks. The teams last met Dec. 3, 2003, with Memphis winning 84-64.
Monday's winner will play Richmond or Maine on Tuesday for a chance to advance to the semifinals in New York on Nov. 15.
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