Tigers believe they have all the pieces for dominance
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Six hours prior to Memphis unveiling its most anticipated team to the general public on Friday, John Calipari was looking for someone to help him hang a Chinese dragon symbol in his office.
"This symbolizes dominance," Calipari said as he found the perfect spot behind his desk to hang the gold and red keepsake given to him by the Chinese Basketball Association delegation that he helped bring to the city the past week in a unique five-year deal with the CBA.
Throughout the past week, Calipari has been running a clinic for the Chinese delegation, hoping his style will rub off on the Chinese as they try to enhance their basketball program.
Well, after Friday night's Midnight Madness event in Memphis, Calipari gave the Chinese coaches some words to work on translating into Mandarin, words like hype, spontaneity and boldness.
Memphis, which went to back-to-back Elite Eights, returns its starting five and adds one of the top freshman in the country in Derrick Rose. So the school began the fall semester by promoting this team like no other in recent memory. There were 20 billboards around the Memphis-area landscape promoting the squad. The huge advertisements ultimately cost $2.5 million, according to Memphis athletic director R.C. Johnson, who added that the university and sponsors split the bill.
So, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the athletic department stunned Calipari and the returning players by playing CBS' schmaltzy "One Shining Moment" national championship song during video of last season's run to the Elite Eight.
Normally, the song is played after the title team gets the trophy from the NCAA Tournament selection committee chair, with streamers and balloons falling to the court, and crisp championship t-shirts and hats donning the victorious crew.
This may be the first time it has been used on Oct. 12 by a team that hadn't won anything yet.
We finally got it, finally getting the respect we deserve for back-to-back Elite Eights.
"It gave us a chill,'' said returning leading scorer Chris Douglas-Roberts.
"I almost shed a tear,'' said the monstrous Joey Dorsey.
Dorsey didn't cry. Calipari said he nearly did. Of course, they were using a bit of verbal license in their word choice. Still, the purpose was served.
"We finally got it, finally getting the respect we deserve for back-to-back Elite Eights,'' Dorsey said. "With Derrick, Shawn Taggart and Jeff [Robinson] coming in, we've finally got the pieces to the puzzle.''
The Tigers certainly don't have any scrubs. They've got 12 guys who can all play a role if called upon.
Calipari's attack offense, which he adopted from Pepperdine's Vance Walberg and calls "Princeton on steroids,'' is all about motion with five players in position to drive and score.
But it is the freshman Rose -- despite coming onto a team with the likes of Douglas-Roberts, Dorsey (the one limited shooter in the bunch), Robert Dozier, Antonio Anderson, Doneal Mack, Willie Kemp and Andre Allen -- who might be the Tigers' most versatile piece.
Rose calls himself a point guard. But Calipari said he expects Rose to pressure the ball defensively and cause plenty of pressure offensively with his ability to see the floor, pass ahead, post-up and run the break.
And, oh yeah, dunk the ball.
Rose wasn't an original contestant in Friday night's dunk contest. But Calipari couldn't resist. He grabbed the microphone after Mack and Robinson had dunked and said he wanted to see Rose dunk too.
The crowd, which completely filled the lower bowl of the FedEx Forum and was estimated at more than 12,000, gave Rose the second-loudest ovation of the night (behind Dorsey's reception during the introductions).
"He told me about a minute before that he was going to call me out there for one dunk,'' Rose said.
Rose didn't disappoint as he completed a double-pumped dunk over his head after bringing the ball down between his legs in midair.
"I'm doing that for my benefit," Calipari said. "I just wanted to get myself excited about him.''
Calipari has reason to be excited about Rose. Earlier in the day, the coach compared Rose to Marvin Williams, the freshman on the stacked 2004-05 North Carolina national championship team. Williams was the sixth man. He wasn't going to replace Sean May, Raymond Felton or Rashad McCants in any kind of star status. Instead, Williams played his role and ultimately went higher than any of his older teammates in the draft.
The same thing could occur here.
"I'd love that,'' Rose said. "All the pressure is off of me anyway with Chris Douglas-Roberts and all the players around me. I'd love it to be like that.''
The Tigers are a work in progress, just like everyone else in the country. But what makes this team stand out is the ability to welcome Rose and Taggart -- the 6-10 Iowa State transfer, who Calipari said can become the team's top 3-point threat -- without any hiccup. Sure, they haven't played a game yet, but there is an unselfish vibe to this group that has evolved since the fall semester began.
Role definition will come. So, too, will more pronounced interior defense with Dorsey, Taggart and Dozier. The tough spots will still be 3-point shooting, unless Mack (40.5 percent) and Kemp (38.6) get more help, and free-throw shooting (62.1 percent as a team led downward by Dorsey's 46.7 percent and Kemp's 41 percent at the line).
So, it shouldn't be a surprise as Calipari walked past the ESPNU monitors late Friday night and said, "If you watched us, why wouldn't you want to play here?"
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.