Memphis' CDR turns back clock with classic game
SAN ANTONIO -- It was the summer of 1999 at Detroit's Condon Playground, just a few blocks south of where Edsel Ford Freeway cuts through the inner city, and Frank Lewis, an old high school teammate of Durand "Speedy" Walker's, said he was bringing over "a special one" from his block of 30th Street. Walker, the coach of The Family, a prominent Motor City AAU program, was holding a summer camp at Condon, and the 12-year-old whom Lewis had in tow did not look special. Strange was more like it. "He was this skinny kid who weighed about 60 pounds, wearing red high-top Chuck Taylors when nobody was still wearing those, and had an afro all over the place," Walker said. "He looked like he would fall apart on the court."
But once Chris Douglas-Roberts got a basketball in his hands, he did things that, according to Walker, were more fit for Rucker Park than Condon Playground. The nascent, herky-jerky game that Walker saw would become Douglas-Roberts' signature when it fully bloomed at Memphis, where he's a first-team All-America as a junior after averaging 17.7 points on 54.5 percent shooting. Tigers freshman point guard Derrick Rose describes what the 6-foot-7 Douglas-Roberts does as "old-man moves" -- "because he's got little tricks he can do with the ball to fool you." All of the tricks in Douglas-Roberts' arsenal in 2008, from inside-out dribbles, to ultra-low cross-overs, to rarely seen mid-range push shots, stand out in the college game like a pair of canvas Chucks next to the latest innovations from Adidas and Nike.
Even now, as the 37-1 Tigers on are the verge of a Final Four date with UCLA, nearly everything about Douglas-Roberts is uniquely vintage: He shares an acronym-of-a-nickname, "CDR," with a digital-media format that went out with the rise of the iPod. His on-court style tends to evoke comparisons from the '70s rather than this decade, so much so that teammates like Robert Dozier tend to say, "I've never seen anybody play like that." The baggy T-shirt Douglas-Roberts used to sport under his jersey, before ditching it in the tournament, was reminiscent of Kenny Anderson at Georgia Tech in 1990. And the rolled-over mess of socks that Douglas-Roberts wears in triplicate on each foot -- "to warm me up," he says -- make his calves look downright mummified, as if they were straight out of ancient Egypt.
"Chris always was a trendsetter," said Walker, who would go on to coach Douglas-Roberts with The Family. "From the day I met him, he always marched to his own beat. Whatever the style was at the time, Chris set his own."