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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Xavier Henry No. 1 in revised ESPNU 100

Xavier Henry No. 1 in revised ESPNU 100
By Paul Biancardi and Antonio Williams
Scouts Inc.
Updated: August 21, 2008

Les Bentley for

Xavier Henry's dominant summer puts him atop the revised ESPNU 100.

A lot can be accomplished and established over a hot summer in the world of basketball recruiting. It's when you find guys who love the game, practicing long hours in the gym, working diligently on their skills and competing in AAU basketball against all types of talent.

After our staff watched games all over the country and evaluated and re-evaluated hundreds of prospects, we have revised the ESPNU 100 and crowned a new No. 1 prospect.

For a player to be No.1 he has to separate himself from all the rest. A truly great player consistently dominates his opponents through some statistical manner (scoring, rebounding, assists or blocks) and non-statistical manner (on-ball defense, team defense, hustle plays, passion). That player also should make everyone around him better. He has a personality that extracts the best out of his teammates while performing at a high level. The best players always help their team win games and championships.

Six-foot-6 SG Xavier Henry's (Oklahoma City/Putnam City) game rose to another level this summer and earned him the No. 1 ranking in the ESPNU 100. The lefty is a prolific scorer who can take over a game with his high skill level, long-range shooting and a chiseled, strong frame with good wingspan.

Rising to be No.1 takes an incredible amount of hard work and dedication -- staying there takes more. Six-foot-9 PF Derrick Favors (Atlanta/South Atlanta), who falls only slightly from No. 1 to No. 2, is in his own right a dominating player and a force around the basket. He played very well and was consistent all summer, but Henry's performance was extraordinary.

In leading his Athlete's First AAU team to the invitation-only AAU Super Showcase title in Orlando, Henry had incredible performances in all his games and played his best as the tournament progressed and the intensity built. Besides developing a midrange game -- the hardest shot for young players to learn -- and improving his right hand, he is the total package.
Henry can take and make from the NBA 3-point line, and with his size and elevation on his jumper, he shoots over most defenders. His signature move right now is his step-back jumper, on which he takes a hard dribble to create space before stepping back for the shot. What makes him most dangerous is he uses his dribble-drive very effectively to complement his accurate shooting. He drives with power to the basket and can absorb contact, score the ball and get to the free-throw line for the old fashion 3-point play. Defensively -- when motivated -- he is an excellent on-ball defender.

Currently undecided on his college choice, his leaders are Kansas and Memphis.

More ESPNU 100 Movers

Through his very strong play this summer, particularly at the LeBron James Skills Academy and the Nike Global Challenge, 6-10 PF John Henson (Tampa, Fla./Sickles) demonstrated why he should rank among the nation's elite prospects. The North Carolina verbal moves up from No. 16 to No. 3 in the ESPNU 100.

Henson has the ability to step away from the basket and connect on jumpers out to the 3-point line, but he needs to become a more consistent shooter. He excels in the transition game and finishes above the rim with ease, using his great leaping ability and length. Henson also rebounds the ball well and generally plays hard on both ends of the court. He blocks shots very well both coming from the weakside and on the ball. Henson also has the ability to handle the ball in the open court and passes well for his size. He has a great deal of upside and his best basketball lies ahead of him.

Six-foot-8 SF Tyler Honeycutt (Sylmar, Calif.) displayed his amazingly versatile offensive skill set throughout the summer, especially during the adidas Super 64 in Las Vegas, and vaults from No. 70 to No. 34.

He has very nice touch to go along with a textbook high release on his jumper, which allows him to hit perimeter shots beyond 3-point territory. He also can put the ball on the floor and get to the rim. His versatility really comes to the forefront when his team plays him as a power forward instead of at his more natural small forward slot. Honeycutt, despite giving up muscle and girth, battles for rebounds on both ends. He also has decent vision and passing skills and rarely forces the issue on offense. He will become an even better offensive talent with when he adds more strength and muscle to his frame.

6-3 SG Avery Bradley (Tacoma, Wash./Bellarmine Prep) effectively used the summer AAU circuit to catapult in the national player rankings from No. 49 to No. 15. He put together strong performance after strong performance in a number of events, especially in Las Vegas, the Best of the Summer in Los Angeles and the Nike Global Challenge in Portland.

Bradley makes use of his outstanding athletic ability to score the ball with ease. He has great quickness off the dribble and can get to the rim and score at the rim or connect on a pull-up jumper in the midrange. When Bradley gets to the rim, he has the leaping ability to produce highlight-reel, above-the-rim finishes. Bradley has also improved on the defensive end, using his lateral quickness to place good pressure on the ball.

Six-foot-7 SF Royce White (Minnetonka, Minn./Hopkins) made significant strides during the summer, especially through stellar play at the LeBron James Skills Academy. The Minnesota commit now ranks as the No. 23 prospect, jumping from No. 61.

He truly plays as an inside-outside threat with his ability to score close to the basket as well on the perimeter. White will hit the jump shot, but he has really improved his ability to create his own shot off the dribble. When he operates off the bounce, he also uses his good vision and passing skills to locate open teammates for easy shots either on the perimeter or in the paint. White also does a very good job of playing defense and has the size and quickness needed to defend the shooting guard, small forward and sometimes power forward spots.

Six-foot-5 SG Durand Scott (New York/Rice) used his ability to score in bunches to climb the ladder in the ESPNU 100 to No. 43 from No. 56. He scored with relative ease throughout the summer, using events such as the Boston Shootout, the NBPA Top 100 Camp and the LeBron James Skills Academy to further strengthen his position on the national landscape. Scott can create his own offense off the dribble by attacking the rim with great persistence. Once at the rim he has good body control and makes adjustments to connect on a number of difficult shot attempts. He also has the ability to hit pull-up jumpers in the midrange, though he needs to continue to improve his jump shot consistency; he tends to become a streak shooter from the perimeter.

New BloodSix-foot-9, 290-pound center Keith Gallon, who has transferred from Oak Hill Academy (Va.) to Word of God Academy (N.C.), enters the ESPNU 100 at No. 21. When positioning himself in the paint, he dominated opponents all summer long. His wide body, soft hands and nimble feet allow him to score easily in the paint. He possesses terrific skill facing the basket; "Tiny" has range to 17 feet and passes well in a high/low game.

At times he is lazy whether it is in low-post defense or running the floor. With that said, at the Nike Main Event in Las Vegas, he had numerous double-doubles. In Orlando at the Super Showcase and the AAU Nationals, he was productive again scoring double-figure points and rebounds. When he decreases his percentage of body fat and plays with intensity consistently, he will be hard to stop.

Six-foot-7 SF Khris Middleton (North Charleston, S.C./Porter-Gaud) has a well-rounded game and enters the ESPNU 100 at No. 64. The Texas A&M commit played extremely well in the adidas It Takes 5ive Classic.

He is a very good athlete who scores in a variety of ways. He rebounds well and can take it on the break himself, and his shot selection is good; he knocks down the open 3-point shot. He is a long, wiry athlete who is a solid defender on the ball and anticipates for steals well off the ball.
If you have not heard of 6-8 PF Thomas Robinson (Washington, D.C./Brewster Academy) by now, you will soon. Entering the ESPNU 100 at No. 54, he really blew up at the Reebok camp in July; he showed the ability to handle the ball in the open floor while doing what he does best -- rebound.

This strong, hard-working power forward rebounds both inside and outside of his area. At the Nike Main Event, he scored in the paint with a jump hook or drop step and from the high post demonstrated a sweet go-dribble to the basket.

In Orlando playing for Team Florida at the AAU nationals, 6-10 C Kyryl Natyazhko (Bradenton, Fla./IMG Academy) displayed a strong skill package. He enters the ESPNU 100 at No. 31.
Natyazhko can shoot the jumper out to the 3-point line and is a terrific passer. What is so impressive is his mobility for his size and feel for the game. He would be ideal in a two-man pick-and-pop game with his ability to spread out the defense.

Paul Biancardi, who spent 2007-08 as an assistant coach on Rick Majerus' staff at Saint Louis, is the sole national recruiting director for ESPN Scouts Inc. He has 18 years coaching experience at the Division I level. He was an assistant at Boston University, Boston College and Ohio State before becoming the head coach at Wright State, where he earned Horizon League coach of the year honors in the 2003-'04 season.

Antonio Williams is a recruiting coordinator for Scouts Inc. He previously worked as an NBA scout for Marty Blake Associates.

Related Topics: Men Basketball Recruiting, High School

Gary Parrish: The Impact Freshmen

The impact freshmen: Nice class, just not that nice
Oct. 27, 2008

By Gary Parrish

Four of the top five picks in last June's NBA Draft were freshmen.

Year before that, five of the top 10 picks were freshmen.

So let me be the first -- or actually the 500th -- person to tell you that, no, this season's freshman class will not be as good as last season's freshman class or the freshman class before that. Greg Oden and Michael Beasley are not walking through that door. But what you must understand is that even though this group of freshmen isn't as gifted as those groups of freshmen there are still many first-year players capable of making an immediate impact.

Any by impact, I mean impact.

Ed Davis might be one of the best freshmen in America; he's talented like that. But how much of an impact will the North Carolina forward make this season considering the Tar Heels already have Tyler Hansbrough and Deon Thompson in the frontcourt? Answer: I'm not sure. But what I do know is that Davis probably won't get the same opportunities as many of his classmates who signed elsewhere. So that's why Davis isn't on this list, because it's not necessarily a list of the best freshmen but rather a list of the freshmen best-positioned to have immediate impacts on relevant programs.

You dig?


Now here's the list of freshmen poised to make immediate impacts:

1. DeMar DeRozan (Southern California)
Why he's here: DeRozan did nothing to lower expectations when he scored 29 points in Sunday's intrasquad scrimmage. The 6-7 wing is a different player than O.J. Mayo, but his impact will be similar, if not more significant.

2. Jrue Holiday (UCLA)
Why he's here: Holiday does a little bit of everything -- including make predictions. In fact, the 6-3 combo guard didn't hesitate when he was asked at UCLA's annual media day for a prediction on the season. "National championship, national championship," Holiday said, according to the Los Angeles Times. "We've gone to the Final Four three years in a row, the history here. What else do I have to say? National championship."

3. B.J. Mullens (Ohio State)
Why he's here: A lot of these rankings are based on the impressions prospects made on me when I saw them at various times. I tell you that to tell you that the reason Mullens is so high is because every time I've ever seen him in person he's been awesome, just a jumping and dunking machine who should wreak havoc on the Big Ten. Is he Greg Oden? No, not quite. But he's certainly good enough to become the third straight OSU center to leave school after one season.

4. Tyreke Evans (Memphis)
Why he's here: Evans has to be John Calipari's best player if the Tigers are to make a fourth consecutive Elite Eight, and I suspect he will be. The 6-foot-6 combo guard has reportedly been great in preseason practices on both ends of the court. So the guess here is that Evans picks up a large portion of the points left behind by Chris Douglas-Roberts and becomes the sixth Memphis player in the past eight seasons to win C-USA Freshman of the Year honors.

5. Samardo Samuels (Louisville)
Why he's here: Samuels got 36 points and 16 rebounds in Sunday's Red-White scrimmage while reportedly "overpowering" Earl Clark and Terrence Jennings. Assuming that description is true (and that Samuels can dominate the paint) it's safe to pencil the Cardinals in as a legitimate threat to North Carolina, which makes me feel good about ranking Louisville second in the Top 25 (and one).

6. Willie Warren (Oklahoma)
Why he's here: Warren will team with Blake Griffin and provide one of the nation's best inside-outside duos. He's great at getting to the rim and should be one of the more entertaining freshmen given his unique ability to talk the talk and walk the walk.

7. Al-Farouq Aminu (Wake Forest)
Why he's here: Aminu is the centerpiece of Wake Forest's stellar recruiting class assembled by the late Skip Prosser and held together by his successor Dino Gaudi. When the Demon Deacons make the NCAA tournament this season, this 6-8 forward will be a huge reason.

8. Scotty Hopson (Tennessee)
Why he's here: Bruce Pearl has established himself in the SEC by doing more with less. Now he gets to do more with more because Hopson is a McDonald's All-American who will start from Day 1 and ensure the Vols have the type of talent to advance past the Sweet 16 for the first time in history.

9. Greg Monroe (Georgetown)
Why he's here: Remember what I wrote about Mullens and how he's ranked so high because every time I've seen him he's been great? Well, that's the same reason Monroe is lower than most would put him, because every time I've seen him he's merely been pretty good. Monroe spent much of his prep days as the nation's top-rated player, but I never saw him consistently dominate the way a No. 1 player should. That said, I know Monroe is talented; that's why he made the list. It's just that when watching him I never saw what I'm used to seeing from an elite prospect, but I'm willing to wait longer.

10. JaMychal Green (Alabama)
Why he's here: Alabama would be the easy pick to win the SEC West had Richard Hendrix returned to school. He didn't, and that's too bad for Alabama. But the reason Mark Gottfried isn't devastated is because Green is on campus after averaging 11.0 points and 8.4 rebounds in the FIBA Americas U18 Championship. As Davidson's Bob McKillop said after coaching him, Green is "terrific".

The next 10

11. Devin Ebanks (West Virginia)
16. Marcus Morris (Kansas)
12. Delvon Roe (Michigan State)
17. William Buford (Ohio State)
13. Kemba Walker (Connecticut)
18. Chris Singleton (Florida State)
14. Luke Babbitt (Nevada)
19. Yancy Gates (Cincinnati)
15. Iman Shumpert (Georgia Tech)
20. Tony Woods (Wake Forest)

Gary Parrish: Top 25 and Two Big Reasons Heels Could Be Perfect

Top 25 (and one): Two big reasons Heels could be perfect
Oct. 20, 2008
By Gary Parrish Senior Writer
I do not think North Carolina will go undefeated this season.

There, I said it.

So that should clear up any confusion in regards to my comment last week about how I couldn't wait to see "if" North Carolina can "go wire-to-wire and perhaps even undefeated." I purposely used the words "if" and "perhaps" because I wasn't predicting an undefeated season as much as presenting it as a possibility, and I thought that was obvious.

But the e-mails still arrived one after another with readers insisting the Tar Heels won't finish with a perfect record, which is why I'd like to take this opportunity to make two points before unveiling the preseason Top 25 (and one).

Point No. 1: I agree, the odds of UNC going undefeated aren't great.
Point No. 2: But you are insane if you don't think it's possible.

As always, I'm happy to explain. Before I do, let's establish two things about which we can surely all agree:

1. The Tar Heels should be better this season than they were last season.


Because the top six players are back -- a year older, stronger, wiser, etc., -- and joined by a pair of elite freshmen (Tyler Zeller and Ed Davis). So on paper, there is no question, this version of the Tar Heels is better than that version of the Tar Heels.

2. The nation as a whole should not be as good this season as it was last season.


Because the group of players entering college isn't as impactful as the group of players that just left college. In fact, I would argue no team this season (outside of North Carolina) will be as good as Kansas, Memphis, UCLA and North Carolina were last season, which means, on paper, there is no question that the quality of this season's elite teams won't be as high as the quality of last season's elite teams.

You still with me?


Now let's assume you're picking North Carolina to win the national title because everybody is picking North Carolina to win the national title. That implies the Tar Heels are expected to go 6-0 in the NCAA tournament, meaning that when the discussion is whether they can go undefeated, all we're really talking about is whether they can navigate the regular season without a loss.

And guess what?

They almost did it last season!

The Tar Heels only had two regular-season losses in 2007-08 -- one to Duke and one to Maryland. The Duke loss came when UNC played without its top two point guards (Ty Lawson and Bobby Frasor) because of injuries. But I think it's fair to suggest the Tar Heels would have won the game had Lawson been healthy if only because when he was healthy later in the season he helped North Carolina to a 76-68 victory at Duke.

As for the other loss, well, it was 82-80 to Maryland, and North Carolina led with less than 90 seconds left and missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer. So that game could obviously have gone either way, which means North Carolina was perhaps just a healthy Lawson and last-second 3-pointer against Maryland away from entering the 2008 NCAA tournament undefeated.

So I ask: Why would anybody think it's unrealistic for North Carolina to go undefeated this season when it's clear the Tar Heels A) very well could have entered last season's NCAA tournament undefeated; B) should be better than they were last season; and C) will be competing against a national field that shouldn't be as challenging as the national field from last season?

Put that way, it doesn't seem so farfetched.

And with that, let's look at the preseason Top 25 (and one):

1. North Carolina: Despite my belief that UNC can go undefeated, I don't actually think it will happen. That's why my official prediction is that the Tar Heels will win the national title with a 38-1 record. But again, a perfect record is a possibility and don't even think about sending an e-mail suggesting otherwise.

2. Louisville: Rick Pitino will benefit from a pair of future pros (Terrence Williams and Earl Clark) who decided to delay their NBA dreams, and that's the kind of development that usually leads to great success. Don't believe me? Just look at Kansas, which won a national title in 2008 because Brandon Rush and Darrell Arthur weren't in the 2007 NBA Draft.

3. Connecticut: The Huskies will miss what freshman Nate Miles could have brought. But there's still enough talent to help Jim Calhoun win his third national title.

4. Duke: This Duke team is flawed, I admit. But Mike Krzyzewski won 28 games with a flawed team last season, and every relevant player from that flawed team is back except DeMarcus Nelson.

5. Notre Dame: Could a Final Four team really be the third-best team in its own league? Yes. Because that's how strong the Big East will be this season.

6. Purdue: The Boilermakers lack the wow factor. But there's something to be said for experienced and steady winners, and that's exactly what Matt Painter has at his disposal.

7. UCLA: It's crazy to think UCLA could lose three NBA Draft picks and still win the Pac-10. Crazy, but not wrong.

8. Gonzaga: Mark Few has the most talented team in Gonzaga history. Now let's see if it can become the best.

9. Michigan State: Does it not seem like the Drew Neitzel era lasted forever? If you're interested, Neitzel is now with the Artland Dragons in Germany.

10. Pittsburgh: The uncertainty about the health of Levance Fields is enough to keep Pitt fans worried. But if Fields is good, the Panthers can be really good.

11. Tennessee: It's possible the Vols have the best two NBA prospects in the SEC in Tyler Smith and Scotty Hopson.

12. Texas: The Longhorns would be ranked second if D.J. Augustin had returned. He didn't. But they'll still be strong without him.

13. Memphis: It says something about a program when an expected "down" year still garners a preseason top 15 ranking.

14. Marquette: The downside of the great situation Buzz Williams inherited is that he won't enjoy the same honeymoon most new coaches enjoy.

15. Georgetown: DaJuan Summers, Austin Freeman and Greg Monroe are the type of talents that can keep Georgetown near the top of the Big East.

16. Villanova: The guess here is that Villanova won't have to sneak into the NCAA tournament this season.

17. Miami (Fla.): Raise your hand if you ever imagined Miami basketball would be better than Miami football. It's almost as crazy as ever thinking Notre Dame basketball would be better than Notre Dame football or Tennessee basketball would be better than Tennessee football. Oh wait ...

18. Arizona State: While N.C. State should be down again, the coach N.C. State fans ran off (Herb Sendek) will be doing just fine in the Pac-10.

19. Ohio State: From Greg Oden to Kosta Koufos, Ohio State is becoming something of a Big Man U. Next up is B.J. Mullens, a 7-foot freshman who is likely a one-and-done player just like Oden and Koufos before him.

20. Oklahoma: Whenever Tom Crean is feeling down, he can look to Jeff Capel and realize it's possible to clean up a mess and make a program relevant again.

21. Southern California: DeMar DeRozan is not O.J. Mayo, but he's pretty darn good and capable of leading the Trojans to more wins than Mayo did.

22. Wisconsin: You know how Steve Spurrier always ranks Duke on his preseason football ballot? That's how I'm going to be with Wisconsin from now on, though it's worth noting Wisconsin is better at basketball than Duke is at football.

23. UNLV: Once again, the Rebels should be near the top of the Mountain West, winning games and preparing to advance in the NCAA tournament.

24. Florida: The Gators need points and rebounds from the center position, even if they come from some combination of players instead of just one.

25. Davidson: Here you go, Davidson fans. I put the Wildcats in the Top 25 (and one), as promised. Now don't let me down.

26. Baylor: The top five scorers are back from a 21-win team. Now if the Bears could just get John Wall committed everything would be perfect in Waco.

Ten teams that could make me pay for not ranking them (in alphabetical order):

Arizona; Kansas; Kentucky; LSU; Saint Mary's; Syracuse; Virginia Tech; Wake; Forest; West Virginia; Xavier.

Dan Wolken's Blog - Things I Think

Things I think…
Posted by Dan Wolken

…after watching the first 12 practices of the year

- The Tigers’ top three players will be very competitive with the top three of most of the teams in the country. The question is how much they’ll get out of the next five in the rotation.

- This can be a pretty good 3-point shooting team, but it’s not going to be significantly better than it was last season.

- I’ll be honest. When Doneal Mack transferred, and then came back, I didn’t think it would make a huge difference one way or the other. But I’m stunned by how well he’s playing right now, and it’s not even really about shooting 3-pointers. If he continues on this trajectory, he’ll give the Tigers what they lacked last year which is a legit guy off the bench to play shooting guard.

- Shawn Taggart struggled a bit in the scrimmages over the weekend. They need to figure out a way to get him going and how they can create some good scoring opportunities for him.

- Tyreke Evans has improved a ton already because he is extremely coachable. You tell him to do something, and he’ll do it on the next play.

- Wesley Witherspoon is a tough guy to guard, and he’ll be even tougher when he makes all of his layups.

- Matt Simpkins is pretty active inside. He’s been slightly better than I expected.

- There is probably going to be an odd-man out somewhere along the line. If you’re starting lineup is Kemp, Anderson, Evans, Dozier and Taggart, there are three more people and maybe a fourth who will be in the primary rotation. Mack is starting to separate himself, and Pierre Niles is in there because they need a second big. That leaves everybody else fighting for a couple positions. Not to say that the rest of the team won’t play, but a true 10-man rotation is unrealistic.

- I have almost assuredly overrated Memphis at No. 8 in my AP top 25

Dan Wolken's Preseason Top 25 Ballot

Preseason Top 25 ballot

Posted by Dan Wolken The AP top 25 poll will be out on Friday. Here’s the ballot I turned in today. Basically, it’s a total guess.

1. North Carolina
2. Connecticut
3. Oklahoma
4. Louisville
5. Duke
6. Purdue
7. Gonzaga
8. Memphis
10. Notre Dame
11. Michigan State
12. Texas
13. Pittsburgh
14. Tennessee
15. Arizona State
16. Villanova
17. Miami
18. Syracuse
19. Ohio State
20. Southern Cal
21. Kansas
22. UNLV
23. Wisconsin
24. St. Mary’s
25. Baylor

Dan Wolken's Blog - On Arizona and Rumors

On Arizona and rumors
Posted by Dan Wolken

It’s only October, but silly season in college basketball coaching has already arrived. And for Memphis fans, the script is incredibly familiar. A high-profile job opens up. Immediately, John Calipari’s name is thrown into the mix because, well, his name is always thrown into the mix. Posters on Internet message boards who previously trashed Calipari will suddenly claim that he’s their program’s savior. A columnist in said college’s area will inevitably write the case against hiring Calipari - regardless of whether he’s really a candidate - drudging up Marcus Camby and the laundry list of the off-court problems he’s had at Memphis.

In the case of Arizona, which will be the big job open next April now that Lute Olson has announced his retirement this week, let me go ahead and save everybody the trouble.

Calipari isn’t going to Arizona.

Of course, some of this stuff has already started, though not by national writers who understand the dynamics of the situation. But Calipari’s name has been thrown out in Arizona newspapers, and apparently even a Phoenix radio host said that he’d heard Calipari would be willing to take a pay cut to go to Arizona (Whoever is spreading that rumor doesn’t know Calipari very well.) When I mentioned to Calipari that his name had popped up in the Tucson papers, he laughed, because it’s entirely predictable. But his response was clear and unequivocal. He’s not interested.

As someone who spends a lot of time around Calipari and the program, there are a couple things are worth keeping in mind when it comes to Calipari and any other job, especially this one.

1) With his newest contract, Calipari makes $3.35 million a year guaranteed. Let me repeat. Calipari makes $3.35 million per year guaranteed. And that doesn’t even include a dime from the new shoe contract Memphis is about to sign with Nike. Now, I can’t get anyone in the athletic department to go on the record right now about what the financial ramifications of this deal will be. But from what I’ve gathered, it will add another significant chunk of money to Calipari’s annual package. How significant? I’m not sure yet, but the total numbers could be Nick Saban-esque. Olson’s total package at Arizona, according to published reports, was somewhere between $1.3-1.5 million, which is pretty much in line with the pay scale in the Pac 10.

2) Calipari’s mindset, at this point, seems to be geared more toward riding out the momentum at Memphis rather than starting over somewhere else. That doesn’t mean he’s going to coach at Memphis forever, but if the Tigers get a couple of the recruits they’re after along with the players who are already in the fold for next year, Calipari sees them right back in the championship mix. Like Indiana, Arizona is probably a 4-year rebuilding job at minimum.

Bottom line, though, is that Memphis fans have no need to wring their hands over Internet speculation, mostly fueled by fans (and in some cases coaches) from teams that are recruiting against the Tigers. As many others have written on a national basis, fans of Gonzaga and Pitt should have much more reason to think about Arizona at this point than Memphis fans.

Last year was Robinson's time to watch, learn from Tiger bench

Last year was Robinson's time to watch, learn from Tiger bench
By Dan Wolken, Memphis Commercial Appeal
Monday, October 27, 2008

Jeff Robinson finally has his opportunity.

Lost in the shuffle during the University of Memphis' run to the national championship game last April, and beginning this season without a defined role or position, the door is now wide open for Robinson to grab a spot in the regular rotation over the next three weeks.

With freshman Angel Garcia nursing a knee ligament sprain, freshman Wesley Witherspoon more likely to play guard than forward and freshman Matt Simpkins still unsure if he'll be academically eligible this season, the Tigers could enter the Nov. 15 opener against Fairfield without a second option at the power forward position.

It's a role coach John Calipari hopes Robinson, a 6-foot-5 sophomore, steps up to claim.

"That's why he's getting the opportunity," Calipari said. "He doesn't need to be (starter) Robert Dozier. He needs to be Jeff Robinson. What can Jeff Robinson do well? Rebound, defend, go block a shot, be athletic and be physical. Make really easy plays and don't try to go crazy because if you're out there turning it over, you can't be out there. Do the things you do well. But the greatest news for Jeff is he's got an opportunity right now."

Last season, Tiger fans didn't get to see much of Robinson, a top-50 national recruit coming out of St. Patrick High School in Elizabeth, N.J. He played in just 28 of the Tigers' 40 games, averaging 9.1 minutes and 3.0 points.

For many players as highly-recruited as Robinson, the lack of consistent court time might have been problematic. But Robinson, to his credit, accepted it as part of playing on a veteran team that went 38-2.

"We had a lot of people that moved on to the next level, and I was just sitting behind a lot of guys at the time," Robinson said. "But I played when I needed to and when Coach thought it was right to put me in the game, so I was happy with that.

"I think I got a lot of experience. Normally, it would help a lot of freshmen that are here now if they were in my position (last year) because of the type of season we had, and I already know how hard we've got to play, the type of defense we've got to play, the rebounding and everything. It was a good learning experience for me."

When Robinson came back as a sophomore, however, the competition among the Tigers' guards hadn't thinned out much. With the starting lineup pretty much locked in at this point, there are only so many minutes to go around on the wings among senior Antonio Anderson, freshman Tyreke Evans, junior Doneal Mack, sophomore Roburt Sallie and Witherspoon.

What sets Robinson apart, however, is a physique and leaping ability that remain far ahead of his offensive skills. When the Tigers recruited Robinson, they envisioned a player in the mold of P.J. Tucker, who, even at 6-foot-5, averaged 9.5 rebounds for Texas in 2006. And in the Memphis offense, a big guard can play power forward, as Jeremy Hunt often did in 2007.

Now that some early injuries have set in and Calipari is moving pieces around, never before has Robinson had a clearer path to a prominent role.

"He's comfortable with me at the '4' because that's what I played last year," Robinson said. "I'm a sophomore now. Coach expects a little more of me, expects me to be more of a leader. Hopefully I get the chance to play a lot more, but he already knows the way I play and the style of basketball and what I can do, so I'm just going to wait my turn."

Though Robinson's jumper is still a work-in-progress (he's shooting with a higher arc after some offseason adjustments) and he still isn't as effective with his right hand as he needs to be, it's clear from the Tigers' early scrimmages that anyone who can rebound will have a chance to play this season.

Calipari said Robinson helped himself over the weekend.

"He's on the floor, which is a good thing, and he's fighting in there," Calipari said. "Be what you are, and that's easy. Trying to be something you're not is hard."

And what Robinson could be, above all else, is a candidate to absorb some of the 9.5 rebounds the Tigers lost when Joey Dorsey went to the NBA.

"We need to get a lot of rebounds because we lost Joey, and he got the majority of our rebounds, so I pretty much need to work on just playing defense and rebounding," Robinson said. "Everything else is going to come to you, so you don't need to rush shots or worry about scoring."

Reach Dan Wolken at 529-2365; read his blogs on the Tigers at

Monday, October 27, 2008

Seth Davis............Checking In With Memphis

Checking in with ... Memphis
Posted: Monday October 20, 2008 1:09PM

MEMPHIS -- Moments before a banner commemorating the University of Memphis' appearance in the 2008 Final Four was raised to the rafters of Fed Ex Forum last Friday night, the 14,000 blue-clad fans who had gathered for Midnight Madness were treated to a spine-tingling highlight video of the Tigers' march through the tournament bracket.

The montage was set to One Shining Moment, and the crowd rejoiced with every soaring dunk. When the video culminated with NBA commissioner David Stern's announcement that Derrick Rose had been selected with the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, the fans stood and cheered some more.

From where I sat courtside, that ending struck me as more wistful than cheerful. After all, One Shining Moment is supposed to end with the winning team celebrating on the court, but since Kansas won the final game that wouldn't suffice in this setting. And the image of Stern's announcement was a bitter reminder that the biggest reason behind the Tigers' remarkable 38-2 season was not at Midnight Madness because he is a member of the Chicago Bulls (poor sap).

So while the university and its fans have every reason to be proud of what its team accomplished last season, the unfortunate reality is that the trio that formed the nucleus of the NCAA runner-up -- Rose, Chris Douglas-Roberts and Joey Dorsey -- are all gone. Tigers coach John Calipari started dealing with that reality as soon as the Kansas game was over. During lunch earlier that day, I asked Calipari how he handled the pain of the 75-68 overtime loss, in which the Tigers blew a nine-point lead in the last two minutes. "I never felt winning a championship was going to define who I am," he said with a shrug. "And I also felt, we'll be back. That was my thought in the locker room: We gotta get back."

Calipari talked about the game as we chowed down on ribs at Cozy Corner Restaurant, a low-key ribs joint on North Parkway. When you're in Memphis, you've gotta eat ribs, and I knew Calipari had juice in this town when he convinced the owner to serve us a fat plate even though the restaurant was closed. Al McGuire used to say, "If the waitress has dirt on her ankles, the chili is good." Well, the leather seats at Cozy Corner, were torn, which should tell you just how delicious those ribs were. (I definitely recommend the place, but if go, be careful not to mistake the mild barbecue sauce for the spicy. Trust me on that one.) Calipari told me he has never watched a tape of the title game, and he declined my request to watch it with me, even after I paid for lunch. But he recounted those fateful last few minutes with the vivid detail of someone who had replayed the sequence in his mind over and over again.

It's a little easier for Calipari to look ahead because he knows he's going to have a competitive team. The 2008-09 Tigers will certainly not be as dominating as last year's bunch, but if they're healthy, there's every reason to believe they will be well-positioned to make another run deep into the NCAA tournament. Though the Big Three are gone, two other key contributors from last year, 6-9 senior forward Robert Dozier and 6-6 senior guard Antonio Anderson, came back to school after withdrawing their names from the NBA Draft.

Anderson didn't go through workouts, but Dozier was put through the paces by five teams. Having learned that he needed to improve his strength and his outside shooting, Dozier spent the rest of his summer working strenuously on those deficiencies. Now Calipari says he has a chance to be one of the top 10 players in the country.

Whether Memphis is a good team (no doubt), a really good team (fairly likely) or a Final Four team (quite possibly) this season will depend mostly on how quickly the new players adapt to Calipari's frenetic, unconventional dribble-drive motion offense. And the new player who needs to adapt the quickest is heralded freshman guard Tyreke Evans. At 6-6, 219 pounds, Evans is bigger and stronger than Rose was at the start of his freshman year. He does not have the same explosive athleticism (who does?), but he is plenty quick and is incredibly adept at finishing around the basket. He has a funky shooting motion that takes a lot of time to get the shot off, but since he releases the ball well behind his head it should be pretty tough to block. And he is already demonstrating the ability to be a ridiculously good defensive player, which should lead to plenty of breakaway layups.

Evans is so good at getting to the rim that he presents Calipari with a conundrum: Should he play him at point guard to take advantage of his abilities to break down defenders, or should he keep him on the wing where he can focus more on scoring? Calipari also has two other players who are capable of playing the point -- Anderson and 6-2 junior Willie Kemp, a proficient shooter who started at the point as a freshman. Kemp will probably start at the point as the season begins, but you can be sure all three of those guys will be handling the ball a lot.

Calipari's dribble-drive motion offense might look fairly simple, what with all those repeated drive-and-kicks, but the patterns are more intricate than meets the eye. Because it is predicated on everything happening so fast, there is also very little margin for poor decision making. In the end, that will be the biggest challenge as Calipari integrates newbies like Evans, 6-8 forward Wesley Witherspoon, 6-11 forward Angel Garcia and 6-5 sophomore transfer Roburt Sallie.

All those guys are physically well-equipped to excel in the DDM, but mentally they have a lot to learn. At one point during last Friday's practice, Calipari circled his wrists in rapid fashion as if he was making a traveling call. "I need your feet to move like this," he said. Then he circled his wrists more slowly and said, "But I need your minds to move like this." Or as John Wooden used to say, "Be quick, but don't hurry."

If Derrick Rose wasn't in such a hurry to play professional basketball, the Tigers' prospects for getting back to the championship game would be a lot more, well, rosy. But I came away from my visit to Memphis surprisingly impressed with the Tigers' stable of talent. I also came away a few pounds heavier thanks to my visit to Cozy Corner. Even in down times this town never lacks for flavor, and I'm betting Memphis will show more spice this season than most people expect. Here's my breakdown of the Tigers:

Heart and soul: Anderson. Last year, Anderson was the consummate glue guy. He is a big, strong guard who loves to defend and is a surprisingly efficient passer. His 2.6-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio was best in Conference USA. Though he adeptly filled his complementary role last year, it was clear to me as I watched practice that he knows this is his team. He needs to improve on his shooting (he made just 40.8 percent of his field goals last year and 57 percent of his free throws), but the Tigers will need Anderson's varied skills. Most of all they will need his maturity and leadership.

Most improved: Shawn Taggart. Forget for the moment that Taggart, a junior forward, won the three-point contest at Midnight Madness. (Is it a good sign when a 6-10 guy wins your three-point contest?) He needs most to rebound and finish around the rim for Memphis to have a good season. He toned his body in the weight room over the summer and will be a starter this season, if only by necessity. He doesn't need to be as good as Dorsey, but if Taggart develops into a reliable post scorer and defender, it will enable a lot of other pieces to fall into place.

X factor: Evans. We know he was a sensational high school player, and his body is ready for the college game. (In truth, his body is ready for the NBA game.) The question is whether Evans will be able to handle the mental aspect of the game. That's not easy for any rookie, much less one that will be asked to do so much so soon, but make no mistake: he has the talent to do it.

Glue guy: Kemp. It couldn't have been easy for Kemp to be relegated to reserve duty after starting as a freshman, and at times it may not be easy for him to take a backseat to Anderson and Evans this season. But Kemp possesses considerable skills as both a knockdown shooter (he's a career 37.6 percent from three-point range) and a playmaker. He isn't generally considered a great defender, but now that this is his third year in the program he should have a handle on how hard he needs to play at that end of the floor. If Kemp shows a blue-collar attitude to match his white-collar skills, he'll get all the minutes he wants this season and then some.

Lost in the shuffle: Pierre Niles. I might have put freshman Wesley Witherspoon in this slot, but because he is so important to Memphis' future, my hunch is that Calipari will play more minutes than his abilities dictate to give him experience. That could leave Niles closer to the end of the bench, which would be a shame considering how hard he worked in the offseason to get into shape. Niles is 6-8, 300 pounds, but he lost 50 pounds in the offseason. I was amazed watching him run the floor and float to the rim during the intense two-hour practice. (He could make a fortune as an NFL defensive tackle if he didn't mind getting hit.) But Miles has shown immaturity and lack of dedication in the past, and if he lapses into that kind of behavior this season he'll disappear before our very eyes.

Bottom line: In Evans, Dozier and Anderson, Memphis has as good a three-man nucleus as you'll find anywhere. Because there are so many new guys in the fold, the team will take some lumps in the early going. (Maybe the Tigers will even lose a game in Conference USA this year; they've won 42 straight.) But by season's end I think the Tigers are going to better than people anticipate. Memphis should make it to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament. If the Tigers stay healthy and the young guys can grow up fast, they may even raise another banner next October.

Friday, October 17, 2008

From The Bleacher Report

Jameson Fleming, at the Bleacher Report, has Memphis at #10, and UTEP at #9, in his Road to the Final Four at Ford Field: 10 High Strung Teams list.

I'm not sure I would say "The Tigers will back cut opponents to death" but perhaps Mr Jameson has not actually seen the Tiger's dribble drive offense. Interestingly, he has UMASS, and Derek Kellog, at #2 on the list.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


The Hoops Report by Ronak Patel has Memphis at Number seven, and projects Wesley Witherspoon to be in the starting five.

This observer expects to see Wesley coming in off the bench, much like Rodney Carney used to do, creating match up problems for the opposition.