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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Top-ranked Tigers put city in spotlight for the right reasons

Top-ranked Tigers put city in spotlight for the right reasons
By Geoff Calkins
Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Go ahead, take a another look. It really does say what you think it says:

1. Memphis.

That's right:

1. Memphis.

Can't quite believe it, can you?

1. Memphis.

What do you think of Memphis being ranked #1

I knew they were the best all along.

It's nice in January, but the NCAA tournament is the important thing.

And the ranking isn't for crime rates, obesity or public corruption.

The AP poll and the USA Today/ESPN coaches poll were both released Monday. For the first time since 1983, the Memphis Tigers are atop the college basketball universe.

"Last time, they lost on the day the poll came out," said Memphis coach John Calipari. "We can't do that because we don't play


All the more reason to take another look.

1. Memphis.

It's going to be hard to get tired of this, isn't it?

And, yes, absolutely, it's understood that the ranking doesn't mean anything. A No. 1 ranking and four dollars will get the Tigers a non-fat, double-shot, venti latte.

But there's something to be said for the privilege of sticking your blue foam finger in the air. For knowing that every newspaper in the country this morning has a little headline somewhere proclaiming that Memphis is the No. 1 team in the country.

"It's very satisfying," said Memphis point guard Andre Allen.

Especially given all the people who doubted that a team could do this from such a cruddy conference.

It is a cruddy conference, too, a collection of has-beens and never-weres. When Louisville and Cincinnati bolted for the Big East, most of the experts assumed the Memphis basketball program would slowly sink into irrelevance.

"Why do they hate us, Coach?" said Tiger forward Joey Dorsey, at the start of Monday's practice.

It was a wonderfully naive and complicated question.

Nobody "hates" Memphis. That's paranoia talking. But nobody gave the Tigers a shot to do what they're doing, either. And nobody quite knows what to make of it.

So even though it seemed inevitable that the Tigers would be ranked No. 1 in Monday's polls after North Carolina's loss to Maryland over the weekend, the players and coaches waited and wondered.

"If we are No. 1, they don't want us to be," said Memphis guard Antonio Anderson.

They? Who is they?

"Everybody," he said. "Just everybody. Everybody in general."

Calipari talked ominously about hanging chads and recounts.

"It may be a split," he said. "I'm not sure that won't happen."

Except, of course, it didn't happen.

The USA Today/ESPN coaches poll came out first:

1. Memphis.

The AP poll came out next:

1. Memphis.

In the coaches poll, Memphis had 21 first-place votes to 10 for Kansas. In the AP poll, Memphis had 49 first-place votes to 23 for Kansas.

"I'm stunned," said Calipari. "I thought it would be really close."

They love you, John. They really love you.

Mind you, Calipari isn't about to believe this or anything, or breathe a word of it to his players.

Remember that question from Dorsey? The one about why everyone hates Memphis?

"You're not supposed to win," Calipari said. "You're not North Carolina, you're not UCLA. You're not supposed to be up there with all those guys. And on top of that, they didn't recruit you."

Long pause.

"But don't play angry," Calipari said. "There's a fine line between anger and fear. That's why I've never talked about us against the world."

Ahhhhh, so that's why.

It was something to see, and something to hear, this adjustment to the glorious new reality.

The coaching staff talked about the responsibility that comes with being No. 1. The players interpreted it as only they knew how.

"We have to go out," said Allen, "and kill everybody."

To reach Geoff Calkins, call him at 529-2364 or e-mail

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