Key Losses: F Duane Erwin (7.2 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.5 bpg), G Anthony Rice (10.6 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 1.1 spg)
Postseason: NIT Defeated Northeastern 90-65, defeated Virginia Tech 83-62, defeated Vanderbilt 81-68, lost to Saint Joseph's 70-58 in the semifinals
Darius Washington Jr.
Memphis, TN/DNP 2004-05
Lynn, MA/Laurinburg (NC) Prep
Wheaton, MD/Laurinburg (NC) Prep
Detroit, MI/Northwestern HS
Lithonia, GA/Laurinburg (NC) Prep
Memphis, TN/Laurinburg (NC) Prep
Headlining the group of newcomers is Williams, a 6-foot-9 wing with NBA potential. But he's just one of four elite prospects Memphis signed from Laurinburg Institute, a prep school in North Carolina that finished 40-0 last season. The others are Anderson, Dozier and Cooper. Add Douglas-Roberts and Allen to the mix, and the Tigers have six first-year guys, all of whom should contribute immediately while laying the foundation for a string of good years.
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John Calipari has dealt with preseason hype at Memphis before. Twice, in fact. The first time, his Tigers began the season 12th in the nation. They finished in the NIT. The second time, his Tigers were ranked 24th in the nation. They finished in the NIT.
High expectations. Low results.
But is it a lesson learned?
According to Calipari, it has to be. That's why his enthusiasm is tame, even though his roster is loaded and oozing with promise.
"We're going to have some good players," Calipari says. "But will we be a team? Will we play like a team? We'll have to wait and see."
Rodney Carney on one wing. Shawne Williams on the other. That's how Memphis will start up front, with possible NBA first-round draft picks on each side of the court.
Carney, a 6-7 highlight reel, was the Tigers' leading scorer last season, averaging 16.0 points per game in his junior campaign. He can shoot 3-pointers, or drive past defenders for dunks. Consistency and toughness are the only problem areas. Still, nobody questions his athleticism, which is off the charts and unmatched.
Williams, a 6-9 phenom from Memphis, tested the patience of his hometown by declaring for the draft after a year of prep school. But all's well that ends well, and when Williams reconsidered his professional ambitions -- or at least put them off for a year -- he was again embraced by the city.
In the middle, it's Joey Dorsey, the only real concern among the starters. The 6-9, 255-pounder drips with potential. But he's been slow to grasp the college game, which is why the Baltimore native averaged only 15.1 minutes per contest as a freshman.
If Dorsey improves -- and can stay out of foul trouble -- he's a double-digit rebounder, no question. If not, the Tigers will turn to a group of capable yet unproven bodies. Among them are highly regarded freshmen Robert Dozier and Kareem Cooper, the latter of whom is a 6-11, 275-pound mammoth who can score around the rim yet shoot jumpers in the mold of former Arkansas star Dwight Stewart.
Was there a more gut-wrenching moment in college basketball last season than Darius Washington missing two free throws at the end of regulation against Louisville? He fell to his knees in tears, the dream of an NCAA Tournament berth gone thanks to a one-point loss in the Conference USA title game.
Washington took the defeat hard. But in agony, the one-time prep phenom was humanized, and became undoubtedly the leader of this team moving forward. He returns now as an experienced point guard, steady hand, legitimate All-America candidate and the main reason Memphis is a no-brain pick to win the reshaped C-USA.
Who will play alongside Washington in the backcourt? Memphis actually has multiple options.
Senior Jeremy Hunt was a leading candidate before being dismissed from the team for off-court issues. Observers of pick-up games at the Finch Center practice facility on campus have come away in love with two freshmen: Antonio Anderson and Chris Douglas-Roberts.
Anderson and Douglas-Roberts are each accomplished prep standouts, top 100 recruits with all the ribbons. Both are capable ball-handlers, and solid shooters. Consequently, Memphis as a whole should be better at shooting guard than last season despite losing Anthony Rice, a four-year starter and lockdown defender who could makes shots but not really create opportunities.
Though Calipari is downplaying the expectations publicly, in private he knows this could be a special season. He didn't lose any eligible recruits to the NBA. He didn't lose any veterans to the NBA. So already, he's in better shape than most years.
Washington and Carney are back. Williams and Douglas-Roberts are on campus. Those are four potential NBA Draft picks, four more than most other C-USA teams possess.
Consequently, a league title -- and then some -- is expected.