The Tigers are experienced, deep and talented. Their coach wonders whether that'll be enough
How do you get the most out of a team that could win many games on talent alone? That's the welcome dilemma facing coach John Calipari. All five starters and seven of the top eight players return, including the club's leading scorer last season, junior guard Chris Douglas-Roberts; the Conference USA defensive player of the year, senior center Joey Dorsey (2.2 blocks per game); and versatile junior forward Robert Dozier. Joining that core is point guard Derrick Rose, one of the nation's top five freshmen. "With guys like these, I've got to keep them on their toes," says Calipari. "I've got to keep new things coming that will make them think and stimulate them."
To that end, Calipari has changed his practices to create more gamelike intensity. A few times a day the Tigers run full-court scrimmages with each side getting three possessions and the coaches keeping score. "Everything we do now is competitive -- somebody wins and somebody loses," says Calipari, who also tracks every three-pointer and layup taken (and made) in drills. "It keeps them thinking about one thing: beating the other guy and beating the other team."
Douglas-Roberts did his part this summer to make sure that the wins keep coming. Instead of entering the NBA draft, he returned to his hometown of Detroit, where he lifted weights and shot hundreds of jumpers each day. The 6' 7" Douglas-Roberts is now up to 200 pounds (from 190) and has extended his range to NBA-three-point distance.
A motivated Douglas-Roberts will only help his coach's cause. Calipari is patterning his team after another ultratalented outfit, Kentucky's 1996 national champions, and will use a pressure defense and an offense he calls "driving motion" -- a fast, aggressive take on the standard motion offense. "The [Wildcats] had seven first-round picks, and only two players averaged double figures in scoring," he says. "What [coach Rick] Pitino did to get guys to buy into the concept of team versus individuals is what we have to do this year." The NBA draft may not be as kind to these Tigers as it was to that Kentucky team, but Calipari hopes March Madness will be. -- Julia Morrill
Issue date: November 19, 2007