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Monday, April 07, 2008

Geoff Calkins - As title game time nears, nervous tummy the norm

As title game time nears, nervous tummy the norm
By Geoff Calkins
Monday, April 7, 2008

SAN ANTONIO -- Derrick Rose walked to the podium, whispered something to Memphis coach John Calipari, then disappeared for the rest of the day.

"He said his stomach is bothering him," Calipari said.

To which Memphians everywhere can answer: We know how he feels!

Stomachs bothering you this morning, Memphis? Maybe doing somersaults? Palms sweaty? Head swimming with hopes and possibilities?

At 8:21 this evening, the Memphis Tigers will play the Kansas Jayhawks for the national title.

How can anyone read that sentence without feeling a little jittery? Memphis in the title game? Memphis with a chance -- a good chance -- to win it all?

"Nothing much good happens in Memphis," said forward Robert Dozier, who really didn't mean it like that. But he knows your frustrations, understands what's at stake.

This is about basketball, plainly. And this is not about basketball.

It is about crime and cynicism and our perceptions of ourselves. A team from Memphis winning a national title? Would Memphians even know how to react?

"I'd do seven back flips with one hip coming off the floor," Calipari said. "At least I'd try."

So there's another reason this could be a memorable night: Calipari's victory dance.

Of course, Calipari's hip won't be going anywhere if Rose's stomach doesn't settle down by this evening. His teammates did not seem concerned.

"Derrick eats gummy bears and Starbursts for breakfast, and Twizzlers and honey buns for lunch," said Chris Douglas-Roberts. "It was bound to happen sometime."

Calipari personally served Rose a plate of pasta after Saturday night's win, just to make sure the kid got something healthy in his stomach.

"He didn't eat it," said Joey Dorsey. "He just pushed it around his plate."

Dorsey replayed the scene in his head.

"Maybe he's hungry!" he said.

Everyone laughed at this. It's the soundtrack to the Tigers' trip to the championship game. Constant laughter. From the coaches, the players and, now, the reporters covering them.

Joey, how do you explain your team's improved free-throw shooting?

"I'm not taking the shots," he said.


Dorsey talked to reporters for half an hour Sunday in what the NCAA calls a "breakout" session. When it ended, he was whisked away in a golf cart.

"I've covered players from all levels, high school, college and pro," shouted a columnist from a national Web site, "and Joey, you're the best."

Dorsey shrugged. As if to say, we've been like this all along. Y'all are just starting to pay attention.

"We're intellectual," said Douglas-Roberts.


"A couple of guys are very well-spoken," he said, "including myself."

A columnist from New Jersey stopped to ask a Commercial Appeal reporter if Rose could possibly be as humble as he appears. A columnist from Indianapolis said the Tigers remind him of Indiana's undefeated team.

It's as if the entire world is starting to realize what Memphians knew all along.

"This is a dream team," said Douglas-Roberts. "We support each other. We pull for each other. I've talked to enough players around the country -- and I've been on enough teams -- to know it isn't always like this."

Every team doesn't have a transcendent talent like Rose, who blushes -- literally blushes -- whenever anyone says something nice about him. Every team doesn't have a player like Douglas-Roberts, who's as unflappable as his game.

Every team doesn't have Antonio Anderson, who lives to defend, or Willie Kemp, who is happy just to make shots.

Every player doesn't have Dorsey, part man, part toddler, part Hallmark Card.

"I'm emotional," he said. "I couldn't get to sleep at all last night."

Not because Dorsey is nervous about tonight's matchup with Kansas, either. Because he knows it will be his last game with this team.

Win or lose, this collection of Tigers will never play together again. They have tonight. Period. You have tonight to remember them by.

What would you give to see Larry Finch, Larry Kenon and Ronnie Robinson play one more time? Or Andre Turner, Baskerville Holmes and Keith Lee?

This is the last time you will see Dorsey, Rose and Douglas-Roberts on a court together. Playing for a championship.

It is the only way it could have ended, naturally. It is what they wanted all along.

A chance. A chance to show what a little 'ol team from Memphis can do. A chance to play on the biggest night, on the biggest stage and for the biggest stakes.

Dorsey is writing another story for the occasion. As usual, he wouldn't say how it goes. Reporters asked Douglas-Roberts, instead. Any clues, Chris?

Douglas-Roberts smiled and stroked his chin. You know, the way he does.

"I don't know the other parts," he said, "but I know how it ends."

Geoff Calkins: 529-2364

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