Tuning Out Family, Friends Allows Tigers Unselfish Play
Go Tigers! Doneal Mack and Jeff Robinson block the shot of SMU guard Mike Walker. (AP Photo/Lance Murphey)
Go Tigers!
Doneal Mack and Jeff Robinson block the shot of SMU guard Mike Walker. (AP Photo/Lance Murphey)
Go Tigers!

March 19, 2008

Memphis, Tenn. (AP) - Try splitting one basketball among five players. Now imagine finding enough playing time to keep 12 happy.

Welcome to No. 2 Memphis, where it's share and share alike.

"We have guys coming off the bench that would start around the country in bigger leagues than ours," coach John Calipari said. "They've accepted their roles on this team, and it's unique and special. That's why we're ... 33-1. You've got that many guys and they're capable of doing what they're doing."

Don't believe it's possible?

Well, No. 1 seed Memphis heads into Friday night's first-round game with UT Arlington (21-11) in the South Regional of the NCAA tournament stocked with talent.

Ten Tigers average at least 9.7 minutes. The balance is why only junior Chris Douglas-Roberts ranks among the top 100 scorers in the country, averaging 17.3. Yet six different Tigers have led Memphis in scoring in games this season.

Sophomore guard Doneal Mack said these Tigers truly are friends first, which keeps any problems from becoming so bad that they spill onto the court.

"Last year, I'm not going to say we had a lot of personal problems, but we weren't combined like we are this year. We weren't friends before team. This year, we're really friends before team," he said. "We really look out for each other, and it shows on the court."

That unselfishness was on full display in the Conference USA tournament championship.

Freshman point guard Derrick Rose had the ball in his hands with his choice of driving to the basket or putting up a jumper. Instead, he passed to Antonio Anderson so the junior could try and hit a third consecutive 3-pointer.

Calipari had all five starters ready to go back into that game, but the reserves were playing so well the starters encouraged the coach not to pull them.

 

 

Usually, Calipari subs in two or three players at a time. But Douglas-Roberts said it's easier when they go in and out five at a time.

"That's how we practice, and they're much more comfortable with each other as opposed to playing with us," he said. "Both teams are real unselfish, so whoever has it going, no matter whether it's starters or subs, that's the person who's getting the ball."

Really?

"It's a better way to play," Anderson said of the wholesale substitutions. "You get a lot more rest, and it gives the other guys opportunities to go out as well."

Calipari credits his talented and deep roster for tamping down egos and tuning out family and friends that prefer to see a loved one putting up 20 shots a game.

"It's natural for family to care more about the player than the team. It's a natural thing. If the kid's getting 20 shots, and they're 0-19, mom and dad's happy. If you're 19-0 and they're not playing enough and not getting enough shots, then mom and dad's not happy," Calipari said.

Now the only question that has mattered all this season is whether that unselfishness can help the Tigers reach the Final Four for the first time since 1985, and win the school's first national championship in the sport this city loves so much.

The Tigers average 80 points a game and won games this season by an average of 18.9 - second only to Kansas. But they also play defense.

Memphis ranked 10th in field goal-percentage defense, allowing opponents to shoot only 38.4 percent, and the Tigers were 23rd in scoring defense in giving up 61.2 points per game.

"The only way we lose is if we beat ourselves," Mack said.

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