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A quieter Dorsey does the talking with his game

SAN ANTONIO -- The old Joey Dorsey -- 2007 old -- would have said something stupid by now. Maybe ripped Kansas for not recruiting him. Made fun of KU center Cole Aldrich's Minnesooooota accent, eh? Guaranteed a Memphis win in Monday night's championship game.

Something.

But now we get quiet (sort of) Joey. Introspective Joey. A Joey who is going to require medical attention if he bites his tongue much longer.

It's killing Dorsey that he can't pop off. He'd love to bust on somebody, preferably a Jayhawk, but a promise is a promise. So he pauses before he speaks and edits his thoughts before they turn into words, which sometimes turn into disaster.

It was here in 2007, at this same Alamodome, that the Memphis forward mocked Ohio State All-American Greg Oden a day before the NCAA South Regional final. Said Oden was "overrated" and predicted a 20-rebound game for himself.

And that's exactly how it played out -- except for the part where Memphis lost, Oden dominated during his 24 minutes of play, and Dorsey finished with zero points and zero blocks and had more fouls (4) than rebounds (3). When the team returned to Memphis, Dorsey went into hiding.

"I was so hurt and disgusted with myself," Dorsey said. "I wasn't around my teammates for a whole week or two weeks."

This is the sensitive Joey, a contradiction to what you see at first glance.

You see a 6-foot-9, 265-pound senior forward whose arm and shoulder muscles need their own zoning laws. You see the blocked shots that nearly land in the pep band pit some 20 feet from the court. Nothing hurts this guy, right?

But Dorsey's mother, his grandmother, his teammates, his coach, his coach's wife, his coach's 11-year-old son, his high school coach … they know better. Remember that on Monday evening when Memphis' John Calipari is verbally napalming him from six inches away. Remember it when Kansas rotates its conga line of 6-8, 6-9, 6-11 and 6-11 bigs at him.

Most of all, remember it during the pregame intro. This is Dorsey's 149th and final game in a Memphis uniform, which is a shock to some of the homeboys back in Baltimore. They weren't sure he'd reach Game 1.

"A lot of people from my neighborhood said I wouldn't make it," Dorsey said. "Everyone thought I'd be the first person kicked off the team."

Ever see "The Wire" on HBO? It depicts a West Baltimore most of America can't relate to. Drugs. Gangs. Murder. And, as the show's producers put it, "the lure of the corner."
Dorsey has the entire series DVD collection. Ask him whether his neighborhood bears any resemblance to the one on "The Wire," and Dorsey says no.

"It's worse," he said.

The locals nickname it "Iraq." Surveillance cameras on every street corner. Rampant crime. Lost souls, desperation, a numbing hopelessness.

"I don't even want to go back home because it's not safe," Dorsey said.

His mother (Charlene, who will be at Monday night's title game) and his grandma still live in Baltimore. Dorsey got out, though the journey from Douglass High School to Laurinburg (N.C.) Prep and eventually to Memphis is as intricate and winding as his signature cornrows.

But here he is, the oldest player on the team at 24, trying to leave Memphis with an NCAA championship ring and, if he completes his remaining credits, a college degree. Dorsey, who was suspended from middle school ("I was very hyperactive"), was the first in his family to earn a high school diploma. To do the cap-and-gown thing at Memphis would continue the transformation.

The Memphis mascot wore a "Dorsey For Mayor" T-shirt on his oversized tiger outfit in Saturday night's semifinal win over UCLA. Dorsey's own teammates -- the same ones who criticized Dorsey for his Oden remarks a year ago -- have made no secret of their Final Four motivation.

Before the UCLA game, they told him, "This is for you."

Dorsey is second on Memphis' all-time list for rebounds and blocks. He didn't score a point against UCLA, but the numbers that matter are those rebounds.

He had 15 of them against the Bruins. Memphis is 52-3 when Dorsey gets 10 or more in a game.

And still he gets yelled at. If there were a stat sheet for Most Times Berated, Dorsey and guard Chris Douglas-Roberts likely would lead the nation. Calipari said he does it because he cares, but Dorsey's inner ear canals will never be the same.

"Coach is on me every possession," Dorsey said. "I had like 10 rebounds in the first half [8, actually, against UCLA], and he was still murdering me. He was still on me."

What else is new? In his freshman year, Dorsey was watching from the bench when Calipari got in his grille.

"I'm like, 'Oh my gawd. Coach, you on me and I'm not even in the game,'" Dorsey said.

Calipari yells at Dorsey so much that the other players have asked him to stop.

"Just let him play," they plead with the coach.

Otherwise, Dorsey plays tight. That's what happened early in the UCLA game.

It gets so bad that Calipari's wife, Ellen, tells him, "Will you just leave [Dorsey] alone?" Dorsey even told Calipari's son, Brad, "Your dad yells at me more than he yells at you."

One more game and Dorsey is done with Calipari's blast furnace of a sideline temper. He has survived Baltimore, the doubters, four years at Memphis and Calipari. The only thing left is Kansas and a tag-team frontcourt of Darrell Arthur, Darnell Jackson, Sasha Kaun and Aldrich.

"Ridiculous," Dorsey said of KU's frontcourt talent. "It's going to be tough."

And emotional. Dorsey had 38 text messages and 25 missed calls on his cell phone after the UCLA victory, including one from his high school coach, Rodney Coffield. Dorsey is so geeked about playing in the championship game that he couldn't sleep Saturday night.

"Winning for Joey would mean so much," Douglas-Roberts said. "We all know everything he has been through and that he was with this program before it was really anything. … I will probably be more happy for Joey when we win than he will be for himself."

See that? A prediction. And it didn't come from Dorsey.

Smart.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com.