U of M goes ‘mad’; gets 1st hoops look
Posted: Monday, October 20, 2008 5:41 pm
MEMPHIS (AP) — The Memphis Tigers took time to look back Friday night before providing their fans a view of the future.
In an atmosphere that resembled a key Conference USA game, the Tigers, runners-up to Kansas in last years national championship game, opened their official practice sessions with Memphis Madness at the FedExForum, drawing an estimated 14,000.
“It was crazy,” freshman Wesley Witherspoon said after his first public practice for the Tigers. “I knew it was going to be a lot of people, but I had no idea.”
The celebration was highlighted by a video of last years run to the national finals and hoisting a banner acknowledging the accomplishment.
Chris Douglas-Roberts, the team’s leading scorer, and now a member of the New Jersey Nets, returned to help with the honors.
“It reminds me of my Midnight Madness,” Douglas-Roberts said after the crowd gave him a standing ovation. “Its a wonderful feeling. It was definitely worth coming back.”
Two other former Tigers — fan-favorite Joey Dorsey, who plays for the Houston Rockets, and Derrick Rose, the Chicago Bulls’ top draft pick — had games Friday night but spoke to the Tiger faithful through prerecorded videos.
The newest banner in the rafters said: “NCAA 2008. South Regional Champions. Final Four. National Finalist.”
Memphis could have raised a national championship banner if the Tigers hadn’t squandered a nine-point lead in the final 2:12 of regulation against Kansas.
After the Jayhawks’ Mario Chalmers connected on a 3-pointer with seconds left in regulation, Kansas went on to defeat the Tigers 75-68 in overtime.
The video tribute honored a 2007-08 team that finished 38-2, went undefeated in C-USA, won the conference tournament and reached the national championship game dispatching highly touted teams from Michigan State to Texas to UCLA by double-digit margins.
“It’s not a bad time to count our blessings from a year ago,” Memphis coach John Calipari said.
If there were any lingering feelings about the lost opportunity in the championship game, it wasn’t evident. Calipari had emphasized the event as a celebration rather than a recap of what could have been.
“I want everybody to leave the gas prices outside,” Calipari said before the event. “The economy. Leave it out there. The ills of our city. Leave it outside. When you come in, come in with the feelings you had as we went through that ride last year.”
Fans filled the seats to get a glimpse of a Tiger team that is picked by C-USA coaches to win the title again.
Many came decked out in Memphis blue and looked over complimentary posters of the new team.
They began standing and cheering for the spirit squads before the team even came out for introductions.
They rose again and cheered for every player introduced on the women’s team.
Then it was time for the main attraction.
After the video and banner-hoisting, the Tigers went through 3-point shooting and dunk exhibitions before a scrimmage that had the defensive intensity of an All-Star game.
“That was one of our better defensive efforts in awhile,” Calipari jokingly told the crowd.
But there were plenty of exciting baskets.
At one point, highly touted freshman Tyreke Evans stole the ball at midcourt. Heading toward the basket, he bounced the ball off the backboard and followed it with a one-handed dunk that brought oohs and ahhs from the crowd.
“I knew it was going to be like that,” Evans said of the atmosphere. “All the fans showing you love. You feel like youre in the NBA Finals. If they bring that every night, Ill be ready to bring my game every night.”
And with that, the Tigers and their fans started thinking about this season.
The video and the banner honored a team that accomplished more than any other.
Now, the new Tigers want to move on.
“Last season’s over with. This will put that behind us and get a fresh start,” said senior guard Antonio Anderson.