Vintage Detroit (cont.)
He reads their feet. This is where the magic of Douglas-Roberts' perimeter moves begin. "If a guy's playing me tight," he says, "I know what move I can beat him with. I can see it in his feet: If he bites for the first one, there's another move I have after that that I'm pretty sure he's going to bite for too." He'll suck you in, so you're staring at the No. 14 on his stomach as he leans forward, his long, lanky arms toying with the ball close to the ground. One trick sequence starts with the inside-out dribble, which seems to defy physics: Douglas-Roberts pushes the ball to the right with his left hand, then redirects it downward to the left all in one motion, complete with a shake of his shoulders. If the defender's feet move to CDR's left, then he quickly crosses over to the right and drives to the hole. If the defender doesn't bite left, CDR counters by getting him to bite right with the crossover, then turns his back on the defender and spins left to drive.
"That's just one of them," says Douglas-Roberts, protecting his secrets. "I've got a whole bag of little tricks and hesitation moves."
When Tigers coaches contemplated switching to Pepperdine coach Vance Wahlberg's Dribble-Drive Motion offense in 2005, they knew that Rose's speed would make him impossible to guard in isolation plays, and Douglas-Roberts' elusiveness on the wing would make him, according to Kellogg, "a perfect fit." Memphis players create both kick-outs and their own shot opportunities by breaking down defenders, and while the Dribble-Drive Motion was initially developed to generate only layups and three-pointers, it turned into a perfect showcase for CDR's mid-range skills, an area where he has no peer in the college game. "If he gets by you," assistant John Robic says of Douglas-Roberts, "he just needs a little bit of room. He makes so many unbalanced shots that if it was another player you would say it was a bad shot. For him it's a good shot."
While Douglas-Roberts has honed his floater -- a shot he says he always has in his "back pocket" -- as a Tiger, it was first developed as a means for survival against bigger, older players on Detroit courts like the one at Kronk Recreation Center in his old neighborhood. Kronk is a famed boxing gym where Thomas "Hit Man" Hearns once trained, but it also has a basketball court where Douglas-Roberts took his lumps almost daily against tough competition.
"Kronk was the kind of place," Judy says, "that if you didn't have skills, you just didn't play. There was no pity given out, even to a kid who was younger and slighter of build."
At Memphis, Douglas-Roberts gradually began to polish the unorthodox game that, he says, "everybody from Detroit has." Calipari showed CDR no pity late in a freshman season in which he averaged 8.3 points but earned limited minutes in March. When the Tigers fell to UCLA in the 2006 Elite Eight, the then frail Douglas-Roberts was on the floor for only 14 minutes. Says Calipari of that war-like, 50-45 loss to the Bruins, "I couldn't keep [Douglas-Roberts] in the game. He turned it over. Physically, he couldn't play. This [his 2008 stardom] is only happening now because he decided, 'I'm going to buy into how we play; I'm going to do this.'"
Douglas-Roberts not only added muscle to his frame (he's now listed at 200 pounds) for his junior season, but also worked on his biggest deficiency -- his lack of three-point range -- when he returned home this summer. At Walker's workouts for The Family at Detroit Country Day, a stronger Douglas-Roberts honed his non-traditional jumper, with his elbows out and his non-shooting-hand near the top of the ball, into a respectable-enough long-distance stroke to keep on-ball defenders honest. CDR had averaged 15.4 points as a sophomore while shooting just 32.8 percent from three; by hitting 41.6 perfect of his triples as a junior, he increased his scoring average to 17.7. Even with his added bulk, Douglas-Roberts will never be characterized as a great wing defender, but that's not what the Tigers have needed him to be during this near-perfect season, whose only blemish was a loss at home to Tennessee on Feb. 23.
"[Scoring] is my job on the team," says Douglas-Roberts. "That's what I'm going to do. No matter what defense they throw at me ... I'm not going to let it affect me at all."
Against Michigan State's man-to-man in the Sweet 16, Douglas-Roberts scored 25 points on 7-of-12 shooting in an 18-point rout. Against Texas' combination of zones, and even a box-and-one -- with CDR as the one -- he managed to score another 25, on 5-of-12 shooting, in another 18-point win. Defying Memphis' rap as the worst free-throw-shooting team in the dance, Douglas-Roberts sunk 25-of-29 attempts from the charity stripe in those two victories, en route to being named to the All-South Regional team.
Calipari, at a loss to explain Douglas-Roberts' playing style on Thursday in San Antonio, said, "We call him buckets. He somehow gets buckets." Many of the buckets Douglas-Roberts made from the field in Houston were vintage CDR: A spin-less floater after a dribble breakdown; a left-handed, slashing drive with a finger-roll finish; a push-shot released in traffic over the trees in the post. If Memphis maintains its status as the hottest team in this NCAA tournament, and cuts down the nets on Monday night, Douglas-Roberts' herky-jerky repertoire might start to get emulated by the next wave of young hoopsters. Just picture it: The Floater Generation, with CDR as the trendsetter, making basketball unorthodoxy en vogue.