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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Young Memphis team a different club after NBA departures

    Last year’s leading scorer, forward Rodney Carney, now wears a Philadelphia 76ers jersey after being selected in the first round of the NBA Draft.

    Last year’s second-leading scorer, guard Darius Washington Jr., decided to forego his senior season and entered the NBA Draft, only to be passed over.

    Last year’s third leading scorer, forward Shawne Williams, left after his freshman season and was also drafted in the first round. He now plays, or more accurately sits on the bench, for the Indiana Pacers.

    No. 18 Memphis still has plenty of talent remaining from a team that went lost in the Regional Finals to UCLA. Head coach John Calipari just isn’t sure what kind of team exactly he has.

    “”I don’t really know what to expect from us,”” he said.

    Memphis starts three sophomores, a freshman, a junior and brings another two freshmen and a sophomore off the bench.

    “”Last year’s team had some mentally tough players,”” Calipari said. “”One was Darius Washington…he was mentally and physically tough. Shawne Williams was the same. He may have been a freshman, but he wasn’t backing down from a soul. By losing those two you kind of say, ‘Where are we?’ We’re still trying to find our way right now.””

    In Memphis’ only road game this season, the Tigers were upset by Tennessee 76-58 in a game Calipari said may have been the worst he’s seen his team play in his six plus years at Memphis.

    “”The one road test we had, we dropped the ball,”” Calipari said. “”We didn’t play well, didn’t play together, played timid, showed no mental toughness. We were just awful.””

    But Memphis hasn’t been awful all season. The young team features sophomore guard Chris Douglas-Roberts, a former McDonald’s All-American from Michigan. UA point guard Mustafa Shakur and forward Marcus Williams both are familiar with Douglas-Roberts from Michael Jordan camp. Douglas-Roberts leads the team in scoring at 16.7 points per game and is one of seven slashing guards on the squad.

    “”The guards are really relentless in trying to get into the lane,”” Shakur said. “”If they can’t get into the lane one way, they’ll dribble back another way and try to get to the lane.””

    Senior guard Jeremy Hunt comes off the bench but is the team’s second-leading scorer. Hunt, who had 16 points and six steals in a loss to then-No. 19 Georgia Tech, said he and Shakur speak on the phone from “”time to time.””

    “”Right now we’re a good team, but we’re not as good as we’re capable of being,”” Hunt said. “”We can be a whole lot better. At times we can come out and play like we play, (and) we look like a great team, but if we come and play some and then fall back, it’s not all that good.””

    On the interior, Memphis brings 6-foot-9, 260-pound Joey Dorsey, who leads the team in rebounding at 9.7. Six-foot-9, 215-pound forward Robert Dozier can also hit the boards, averaging six rebounds per game, but the most intriguing player on the Tigers is 6-foot-11, 290-pound center Kareem Cooper.

    Cooper served a suspension for the first eight games for a violation of team rules, but has averaged 10 points and 6.5 rebounds in the last two games coming off the bench. Williams said the player who best compares to Cooper out of the Wildcats’ opponents this year was 6-foot-10, 240-pound Shaun Pruitt of Illinois.

    “”You can’t teach size,”” Williams said. “”Obviously we don’t have anybody that big. It’s just going to be about desire and using your quickness to your advantage.

    “”Obviously being that big, he won’t be as quick to certain spots as I will or (forward) Ivan (Radenovic) will. It’s just (about) not getting into a shoving match because you’re not going to win against someone who outweighs you by 50 pounds or in my case 80.””

    Cooper, Dorsey, and Dozier won’t have many plays called for them though. The guard-oriented team prefers to penetrate to the basket and create inside shots for their big men or kick outside for perimeter shots.

    The Tigers are shooting just 29.9 percent from 3-point range and have yet to develop a consistent 3-point attack. Calipari isn’t quite sure if the Tigers have developed mentally either. After the Tennessee loss, Calipari and his coaching staff got tough with the team, which he described as “”fragile during the game.””

    Calipari took the team through some two-a-days and made practices rougher.

    “”We did stuff just to say OK, I need to know who I can go with and who can’t be in games when stuff gets rough,”” he said. “”And I’m not talking slug-fest rough. I’m talking mentally that you can stay focused when stuff is swirling around you.””

    Now in its second road game, Calipari will get a chance to see what his squad has learned since its failed first road test.

    “”The point for us in coaching is two-fold,”” Calipari said. “”One, learn about your team’s strengths and weaknesses. You gotta know and you can only find that out against good teams.
    Popcorn State you learn nothing.

    “”The second thing is who do I have and how do I make them better… and the only way you can see that is not against Popcorn State. It’s against a really good team in an environment where they’re pressed.””

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