Memphis' Douglas-Roberts: A 1-on-1 Sensation Who is Darn Good at the 5-on-5 Game, Too
April 6, 2008
SAN ANTONIO (AP) - Want to play ball? Here are the rules: 1-on-1, starting at the top of the key. No more than two dribbles. Score and you get a point and a new challenger. Miss and the defender gets the ball, while you go to the back of the line.
First to 12 wins.
On the Memphis Tigers, everyone is playing for second place, because Chris Douglas-Roberts never loses.
"Never," confirmed teammate Robert Dozier.
With a collection of floaters, flips, fades and other shots fired from crazy angles and from both hands, Douglas-Roberts has an old-school game that's fun to watch and hard to stop. It works darn good in 5-on-5 play, too, turning CDR into an All-American who is a win away from being the leading scorer on the national champion.
There's only one problem - he shares the backcourt with Derrick Rose, the freshman who makes NBA scouts drool. But insiders know Douglas-Roberts is the guy who makes Memphis go.
"Without a doubt," said Tigers team manager Rod Strickland, a former All-American who played 17 years in the NBA. "During this whole season, I don't think he's gotten the national attention he deserves. The thing is, we're winning now, having a great run in the NCAA tournament, and a lot of people are getting to see him."
He's been Memphis' top scorer in four of five games on the way to the national championship game against Kansas on Monday night. He's coming off his best performance yet, scoring 28 points against UCLA, including a ferocious slam dunk over Bruins star Kevin Love that sent the 7-footer reeling a few steps then plopping onto the floor. By Sunday afternoon, the clip already had "top-rated" status on YouTube.
Douglas-Roberts usually saves slams for 1-on-1 games, so this one brought teammates to their feet, whooping and hollering.
"People say he's a hunchback, he's not athletic and stuff like that," said Doneal Mack, a backup guard who has yet to beat him 1-on-1. "I'm glad to see him finally doing his stuff."
Douglas-Roberts has been a starter nearly since the day he arrived at Memphis, but has gotten better every year. Strickland said this season he's made the leap from good to great, and Mack said the change began the night after Memphis lost in the regional finals to Ohio State.
CDR was back in the gym, just him and a machine that fires back rebounds. The goal was to perfect the most conventional part of his game - the jump shot.
"He was like, 'I got to get this shooting right, get a consistent jumper,"' Mack said.
The devotion worked. Teams that used to sag off him to cut off driving angles are vulnerable to 18-foot swishes; he's taken and made more 3-pointers than his first two years combined, going 43-of-104, an impressive 41.3 percent. Once they scoot closer on the perimeter, he has more room to create the wild-looking stuff.
"He's an all-around great player," said Kansas' Mario Chalmers, who has known him since they were in middle school.
Douglas-Roberts grew up in a tough part of Detroit, making a second home out of the basketball court at the boxing shrine Kronk Gym. On his way downstairs to the hardwood, he occasionally punched the bag or jumped rope, but, "I wasn't getting into the ring."
He got enough contact on Kronk's basketball court. Playing against older, stronger, taller players, his incredible array of shots was built out of necessity.
"I had to find a way to get my shot off," he said. "Now, I'm one of the taller guys, and I still use those little-guard tricks to get a shot off. ... A lot of shots I shoot are just off of instinct and feel."
Calipari discovered CDR at an AAU game. The coach admits he was there to scout one of his teammates.
"I keep seeing this skinny kid running half-speed," Calipari said. "He just keeps getting balls in the basket. ... I kept watching him. I said, 'I love this kid's game.' I went to his coach and I said, 'Speedy, I know I came to see this guy, but that's the guy I want.' He said, 'You got the right one. He is the guy."'
Because he switched schools his senior year in high school, Douglas-Roberts didn't make any all-state teams - much less all-city. It bothered him then, but he laughs about it now that he's been a finalist for the Wooden Award, the Naismith Trophy and the Oscar Robertson Trophy.
"Anybody would love to be me right now," he said.
Lines like that, and the matter-of-fact way he declares nobody can beat him 1-on-1, give the impression Douglas-Roberts is pretty cocky. But also know this: Judy, his mother's name, is tattooed on his neck and a Bible verse about trusting in God is on his right arm; he thumps it three times before every free throw.
Several players said he's become more vocal in the locker room this season, from giving pre-game speeches to keeping everyone loose or focused, depending on what's needed.
"I'd probably say he's the funniest person on the team," Mack said. "He keeps us laughing for days. ... It's his high-pitch voice, the way he says things, that's so funny."
Questions remain whether the title game will be his last.
Although Rose is a lock to be a top-three draft pick, folks are split on whether Douglas-Roberts would even be a first-rounder if he were to come out now. With a strong draft class expected, some think he'd be better off returning for his senior season.
It comes back to his wild style.
Maybe he'll live up to Calipari's comparison to Earl "The Pearl" Monroe, who used his ball-handling wizardry and shots pulled from a bag of tricks to be named among the 50 greatest players in NBA history. Or maybe he'll just be another college star without a role in the pros.
Strickland won't bet against him.
"Just because he's kind of awkward, kind of different, that's what is going to make him a great player - he's hard to defend," Strickland said. "If you want to say he's a tweener, well, there's probably plenty of tweeners in the NBA right now who have good careers.
"He'll be fine. He can put the ball in the basket. If you have a good point guard, you give him the ball and he'll make things happen."