College hoops countdown: No. 10 Memphis
Posted: October 31, 2008
For Sporting News
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One miraculous shot stuck a dagger in Memphis' dream season last year. The Tigers looked destined for an NCAA championship before Kansas' Mario Chalmers busted a 3-pointer to send the national title game to overtime.
To spare Memphis fans, that's as much detail needed. But one agonizing loss will not swallow the Tigers' hopes for a national championship this season.
Coach John Calipari lost four players from last year's 38-2 squad--three of them drafted by NBA teams--but replaced the cupboard with one of the nation's top recruiting classes.
"I'm excited about the team that we have coming back," Calipari says. "We have size and we have length. Obviously we're going to be missing three tremendous players (Joey Dorsey, Chris Douglas-Roberts and No. 1 overall NBA pick Derrick Rose).
"We are losing a lot. That puts the responsibility on the players coming back to have great summers. We've talked about it and we are thinking of different ways to do things."
It starts with two returning senior starters. Antonio Anderson and Robert Dozier tested the NBA draft waters before deciding to return to Memphis.
Anderson, a 6-6 guard, is one of Conference USA's top defenders. He also showed his complete game by being named MVP of the league tournament in March. Dozier is an athletic 6-9 forward who will be asked to do more in his final season. He worked out for a handful of NBA teams this summer before choosing his final year of college eligibility.
"What I enjoyed hearing were those (general managers) telling me that if he goes back (to school), he could be a lottery pick •," Calipari says. "But he has to get stronger and he has to improve his skills. He is long and he is a good athlete."
Six other letterwinners return, with all of them needing to improve their contributing status.
Guard Doneal Mack announced he was going to transfer during the summer, but then changed his mind. Forward Shawn Taggart has been steady, but will be asked to do more. Willie Kemp played in all 40 games last year, and 6-8 Pierre Niles has been battling weight issues throughout his career. Calipari said the forward hit 350 pounds at one point and must be 300 to practice, 280 to put on a uniform.
In years past, Memphis had a "go-to" player targeted like Rodney Carney, Douglas-Roberts or Rose before a game started. This year, it's anyone's guess.
"We don't know yet how that will all play out," Calipari says. "We think (incoming freshman) Tyreke Evans will be one of them. I don't think it will be like a year ago where we all know every game who it is. It could be Robert Dozier. Antonio Anderson is a blue-collar kind of guy. We are going to be a team that can come at you in a lot of different ways."
Recruiting has never tapered off as long as Calipari has been in Memphis. After last year's run, more potential players are considering the Tigers.
"The excitement about our program has impacted recruiting," Calipari says. "A lot of kids that have interest in us are interested in the specific style in which we play. When you talk to all of them, it's the style and the ability to do certain things offensively and how we play defensively."
Five newcomers will wear Tigers jerseys in 2008-09. The gem of this year's class is Evans, a Philadelphia native.
The 6-6 guard is expected to take over at Douglas-Roberts' position on the wing, and already is a solid candidate for C-USA's Freshman of the Year.
Evans averaged 29 points and eight assists a game as a high school senior, and many expect him to dominate in his inaugural college season.
Calipari said it's important for Evans to be his own player, and not expect to equal Rose's accomplishments in his one season.
"I want (Evans) to just be who he is, no one else," Calipari says. "He's in a natural position (on the wing) for him to do what he does best, which is score with the ball and create double teams so he can pass the ball to his teammates."