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July 24, 2008Whether you spell it Robert or Roburt, Memphis will be looking for a new go-to guy in 2008-09.
Gone are Derrick Rose, Chris Douglas-Roberts and Joey Dorsey. They scored 53 percent of the Tigers' points last season, and Dorsey was the team's leading rebounder and shot-blocker. Together they helped lead Memphis to the brink of a national championship. As John Calipari looks to regroup without them, he'll look to someone old and someone new.
"We don't know yet (about a go-to guy)," Calipari said in a conference call Thursday. "That will all play out. I think Tyreke (Evans, a Rivals.com five-star freshman guard) will be one of them. It could be Robert Dozier. Robert Dozier should be one of the top 10 players in the country. Antonio (Anderson, one of two returning starters with Dozier) is a glue guy. His assist-to-turnover ratio after the beginning of the year was ridiculous.
"We come at you in different ways. Roburt Sallie, we're trying to figure him out. We think he could be really good."
Dozier averaged 9.2 points and 6.8 rebounds last season. He had 19 points against Georgetown and 18 against Arizona in consecutive December victories. He had 11 points and a team-high 10 rebounds in the national-title loss to Kansas.
When Calipari says Dozier could be the breakout guy, you have to believe him. Dozier is long and athletic, and he can finish at the rim. With more strength (he was listed at 215 last season), he could be a 15-and-8 guy for the Tigers this season.
"Robert worked out for four to five (NBA) teams," Calipari said when asked about Dozier's decision to enter the draft, then pull out. "What I enjoyed hearing was those general managers saying he could be a lottery pick if he works hard this summer. He's long, active. He's got to get stronger and improve his skills.
"It's better to hear that for me than anything else. It wasn't an agent or a family member. It was the guy who was going to pick you telling you this. He said, 'It doesn't look like I'm going to get drafted,' and I said, 'Then you better come back here.' If what those GMs told you doesn't inspire you there's nothing that will ever inspire you because those are the guys who pick the players."
Sallie has taken a circuitous route to Memphis. He committed to Nebraska coming out of prep school, spurning offers from Memphis and Kansas, no less. He enrolled at Nebraska part-time in 2006 while awaiting word on his eligibility, unaware that a Big 12 rule would prevent him from ever playing for a school in the league should he attend classes without having met initial-eligibility requirements. Sure enough, he was ruled ineligible, and Big 12 rule 6.2 kicked into effect.
The Huskers were shocked to lose him, and he couldn't go anywhere else in the Big 12, either. With his recruitment back open after he'd had a stellar season at City College of San Francisco, the Tigers beat out Kentucky for Sallie, a 6-5 combo guard.
"I did my research talking with (Nebraska coach) Doc Sadler, who's a good friend of mine, to make sure he's what I thought he was," Calipari said. "Robert and Antonio said he's a great guy and will be a great teammate. He's what you're looking for. That was the ringing endorsement that I needed to hear.
"Last year we had a team that was friends first and teammates second. Can we get back to that? That's what we're trying to do."
Which player holds Memphis' NCAA Tournament single-game records for scoring and rebounding? (Answer at the end of the column.)
Calipari is high on incoming freshmen Evans (the No. 6 overall recruit in his class, and the No. 3 point guard) and Wesley Witherspoon (No. 34 overall, No. 5 small forward). "Tyreke won't play the same position as Derrick. He'll be more like Chris Douglas-Roberts," Calipari said. "We're telling him to be him, don't try to be anybody else. It's the natural position for him to score the ball and create double-teams so he can make easy passes out to teammates. Wesley Witherspoon ? people watching them this summer, people all are saying he has a chance to be unbelievable. He could play the '1,' '2,' '3' or '4.' We could play him at the '4' and have a point forward there. He's 6-8 and can play above the rim. He just has to improve his shooting. ? He needs to get stronger and improve his shot. Tyreke physically is ahead of Wesley, but Wesley will be tremendous for us."
Calipari was thrilled to see one of Justin Timberlake's ensembles during his duties hosting the ESPYs. The singer, who is from Memphis, wore a Tigers basketball jersey during one number. "I'm excited about Justin Timberlake and how he used the ESPYs in a way to really help us," Calipari said. "Whether he was teasing or not, he is still a big fan and it was just truly appreciated. If there is a better entertainer in the world, I don't know who it is. He is the new Frank Sinatra, it appears. He can do everything, and I was really impressed with that."
West Virginia point guard Joe Mazzulla is tearing up the Pittsburgh Pro-Am League. But what to make of it? The league is one of the most competitive of the offseason anywhere on the college landscape, with established players and incoming recruits from Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Duquesne and Robert Morris. Mazzulla was MVP of the league last year, raising expectations for his sophomore season with the Mountaineers. But he managed only 5.8 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.3 assists in 18.5 minutes per game last season. He didn't start a single game as senior Darris Nichols made all 37 starts for the Mountaineers. The job will be his to lose this season, and he again is playing well in the summer league. He had two 30-point outings in seven games and led his team to a second-place finish.
Another player who seems to have gotten a huge boost from the Pittsburgh Pro-Am League is Pitt sophomore guard Brad Wanamaker, a former four-star prospect. He was a disappointment in his first season, averaging just 2.2 points and shooting a miserable 32.9 percent. In the summer league, he has shot the ball better and also scored going to the basket. Wanamaker averaged 23 points over the final three games of the summer season. He told PantherLair.com this has been a great experience. "I've been playing with a lot more confidence," he said. "I've been working on my jump shot. It makes me feel more comfortable, to shoot in a game. It's fun."
Larry Kenon had 34 points on March 15, 1973, against South Carolina and 22 rebounds against Providence on March 24, 1973. The Tigers reached the NCAA final that season, losing to Bill Walton-led UCLA.