NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP)—Derrick Rose calls them “old-man tricks,” the dips and spins and twists and all manner of other funky things that Chris Douglas-Roberts does with a basketball.
Don’t even try them at home because you’ll just look silly, Antonio Anderson said. And defending that game? Good luck with that.
“He’s got like a weird gift,” Rose said. “People don’t notice that when he gets to the hole, it’s real easy for him to lay the ball up because he can spin the ball, do little old man tricks with the ball so you’ll go for it. It’s real tough to stick him, I’ll have to say. I’m happy I’m on his team.”
Go through top-seeded Memphis’ lineup, and there’s potential for trouble everywhere. Derrick Rose, the sublime freshman who’s as good at creating shots for himself as he is others. Anderson and Doneal Mack, threats from 3-point range. Big body Joey Dorsey, a one-man clog in the lane. Robert Dozier, a perfect blend of offense and defense.
As good as all of them are, though, any team hoping to corral the Tigers (34-1) better start with Douglas-Roberts.
“Hasn’t been anybody all year really slow him, shut him down for sure,” said Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury, whose eighth-seeded Bulldogs have the honor of trying next when they face Memphis in the second round of the NCAA tournament on Sunday.
“He’s just a bad matchup,” Stansbury said. “He’s one of those guys who just finds ways to score in so many different ways.”
It’s not just that Douglas-Roberts scores, which he most certainly does. He leads Memphis with 17.2 points a game, and failed to reach double figures in only seven games this year (one in which he played only 13 minutes). He had 23 on 8-of-12 shooting in Friday night’s win over Texas-Arlington, and he was the one who sparked the decisive run that crushed any hopes the upstart Mavericks had after they took a lead in the game’s opening minutes.
All that’s well and good. But it’s the way Douglas-Roberts scores that makes him so dangerous. Figure out one way to stop him, and he’ll simply find another way—or 10—to score on you.
“He’s just clever around that basket,” Stansbury said.
At 6-foot-7, Douglas-Roberts plays as big as a forward and as small as a guard—often on the same possession. He has a game that can’t be described, creating shots that no one else even imagined, let alone saw. Time and again he’s scored on a shot that leaves his teammates and opponents alike shaking their heads, wondering how, exactly, he got the ball in the basket.
“That’s just something he has with him,” Anderson said. “He’s got a way that he can spin the ball. I don’t know how he does it, but it goes in and he’s the only one who knows it can go in. I’ll say, ‘How do you make that?’ and he’ll say, ‘That’s nothing. I can make that all the time.
“He does it with a guy in his face or when he’s by himself,” Anderson added. “It’s something that Chris can do. It’s part of his game that it’s very rare you see nowadays.”
If that sounds a little like Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, that was the intention. Douglas-Roberts watched tapes of the magician-like guard, and he’s adopted a few of The Pearl’s tricks as his own.
The rest are pure Detroit, honed in pickup games and on playgrounds where artistry is not a recommendation but a requirement.
“I just have an unorthodox kind of game from Detroit that everyone from Detroit has,” Douglas-Roberts said. “We like to create our own shot and shoot a lot of scoop shots and in-between shots.”
Douglas-Roberts giggled as he listened to his teammates talk about his game, but you can be sure opponents don’t laugh. His versatility and unpredictability will be particularly key in Sunday’s game.
The Bulldogs (23-10) are out of the SEC, and they’re well-prepared for the bruising, physical games so typical at this time of year. The Tigers, not so much. Play in Conference USA is a little more genteel. Although coach John Calipari built a non-conference schedule specifically so his team could get a look at different styles, we all know what happened the last time Memphis encountered an SEC team.
Memphis’ only loss came to Tennessee, winner of the SEC East. The West winner? Mississippi State.
If Charles Rhodes and Jarvis Varnado are able to shut the Tigers down inside and force them into a slower game, Memphis will need Douglas-Roberts to open things up. Rose and the other guards, too, but it all comes back to Douglas-Roberts.
“You can make some of the other guys find ways to beat you,” Stansbury said. “If we’re going to have any chance at all, we can’t allow him to have a career day in here tomorrow.”
The winner Sunday will face Michigan State on Friday night in Houston. Michigan State beat Pittsburgh 65-54 on Saturday night in Denver.