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3/23/2008 10:31:00 PM
On Anniversary Day, Dorsey Receives A Gift
Joey Dorsey (right) conversed with former Tigers star Anfernee Hardaway (second from left) before facing the media on Sunday.
NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- For Joey Dorsey, who can alternately be Memphis' most quotable player or its most stand-offish, who's just as liable to dominate a game on the boards as he is to disappear into a psychological black hole, Sunday was the sweetest of one-year anniversaries. Remember what Dorsey did on March 23, 2007, in San Antonio, on the eve of the Tigers' meeting with Ohio State in the South Regional final? That's where he chose to make the two most ill-fated statements of his college career, both directed at Buckeyes center -- and soon-to-be No. 1 draft pick -- Greg Oden.
The first: "I'm an underrated big man and he's a lot overrated as a big man." The second: "I'm Goliath. He's the little man." You all know how the rest of the story goes: Dorsey had just three rebounds, 17 short of his prediction for the game, and failed to score a point or block a shot. Oden had 17 points, nine boards and a block. Ohio State won by 16. Dorsey went home, his tail between his legs. Speaking about the incident this summer, Dorsey admitted that it would be best, in the future, "to let the giant sleep." He also hinted that his coach, John Calipari, had relayed similar advice in a rather forceful manner.
On that date, Mississippi State was preparing to head to New York for the NIT Final Four, so perhaps the Bulldogs' star junior forward, Charles Rhodes, was so busy packing that he was never made aware of Dorsey's cautionary tale. And so, even though Dorsey was owed no karmic favors -- his Oden-related embarrassment was entirely of his own doing, and he only dug himself in more holes as a senior -- Rhodes gave him a gift on the morning of March 23, 2008. He served up motivation to Memphis' sleeping giant on a silver platter.
Soon after Dorsey awoke on Sunday, many hours before No. 1-seeded Memphis would go on to beat No. 8 Mississippi State 77-74 and advance to the Sweet 16, he received some news from Calipari. At the Bulldogs' press conference the previous day, in a response to a question about what he had to do to get the better of Dorsey in this second-round matchup, Rhodes had said, "I really think he's got to get the better of me in this matchup. He's a great offensive rebounder. He's not really [an] offensive player." That's all Rhodes said. And unlike the absurdities that Dorsey spewed in Oden's direction, Rhodes' statements were true: he averaged 9.9 more points per game (16.9 as opposed to 7.0) than Dorsey did during the regular season.
But Dorsey's psyche is so fragile, even as a senior in his last NCAA tournament, that this was enough to set off the forward who hadn't registered double-figures in either points or rebounds since March 8 against UAB. "I was so mad," he said, "I was furious about that." Furious enough to block Mississippi State's first shot of the game, a Jamont Gordon layup attempt, and swat three more shots in the first half. Furious enough to finish with 13 points, 12 rebounds and six blocks, compared to Rhodes' 14, 10 and one. Furious enough so that ...
"I knew," Dorsey said, "how Oden felt when I called him out."
If one were to look closely at the fresh pair of Adidas Rhodes sported in his final game as Bulldog, written on the outsides of both shoes were the words "Resurrection Sunday." It was Easter, and Rhodes had seemingly meant to disseminate a Biblical message for the national-television audience. But the irony in it was all too apparent, for Rhodes was directly responsible for rousing the one player who could counteract the physicality of Mississippi State's vaunted front line. And in the aftermath, Rhodes had no interest in repenting for his verbal misstep:
"I said that to get him pumped up," Rhodes said. "I'm not scared of any challenge. That's what I want -- the best out of any player. And he brought it a little bit tonight, I'm pretty sure because of what I said. And you know, they ended up winning the game. It is what it is."
It took Dorsey a few months to admit that he regretted his Oden remarks. Perhaps somewhere down the line Rhodes will admit the same. But he definitely wasn't interested in doing it on Sunday. "Regret it? Not at all," said Rhodes. "It ain't like [Dorsey] scored 40 points and grabbed 25 rebounds. I don't regret nothing I said."
Rhodes is essentially Mississippi State's version of Dorsey, a player who has constant loose-cannon potential despite being a senior. It was only fitting, then, that Rhodes brought Dorsey back full-circle a year later, from the caller-outer to the called-out, from the punished to the one handing out the punishment. "That's Joey Dorsey when he's right," Calipari said of the player the country saw on Sunday, who looked far more like the Dorsey who had 14 double-digit rebounding games before Valentine's Day than the one who did it just once after that. "That's what he is. He's not always right, but when he is right, that's what he is."
The record should note that Dorsey wasn't all perfect on his anniversary. He fouled out with 22 seconds left, bumping Rhodes to set up an and-one play that sparked a late Mississippi State rally, which kept the result in the balance until the game's final shot. On his way off the floor, Dorsey made sure to complain to the refs, his palms up and a look of disbelief on his face. After the game, he tried to retreat to Memphis' shower area -- and into a conversation with former Tiger Anfernee Hardaway -- to avoid talking to the press.
"You know I hate doing those interviews," Dorsey said, before a team official prodded him back into into the public portion of the locker room. Once there, though, he sat down and held court with reporters for 20 minutes. It all came rather easy to him, because Joey Dorsey, when he feels like it, can be one captivating enigma.