All grown up?

Gerry Ahern
Yahoo! Sports

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SAN ANTONIO – No player in college basketball attracts more heat than Memphis center Joey Dorsey.

If it's not his actions on the court prompting the constant screams of coach John Calipari, it's his behavior and comments away from the floor bringing media scrutiny.

Now a senior and with the Tigers set to face Kansas for the NCAA championship Monday night, Dorsey reflected upon how far he has come from a brutal background in Baltimore. The chance to close his college career on the highest possible note has to qualify as a longshot.

"I had 38 text messages last night and 25 missed phone calls," Dorsey said Sunday, recalling the aftermath of a semifinal win over UCLA. "One was from my high school coach, Rodney Coffield. He said, 'I'm so proud of you.'

"A lot of people in my neighborhood said that I wouldn't make it, go to college. Everyone back home thought I would be the first guy from Douglass High School kicked off a college team. I've proven them wrong."

He has also developed into a team player, one who complements Memphis' star-studded lineup of Derrick Rose, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Robert Dozier and Antonio Anderson.

Dorsey was held scoreless in the win over the Bruins. But he pulled down 15 rebounds, made a pair of key blocks and neutralized UCLA's best player, Kevin Love.

The significance of that effort was not lost on Calipari, who spent most of the game berating his big guy.

"The reason I got on him is because I know how good he is," Calipari said. "I know that you all watched and he won the game for us."

No player will be more important to Memphis' success or failure against the Jayhawks than Dorsey. He'll have to deal with Kansas' seemingly endless stable of frontcourt players – Darrell Arthur, Darnell Jackson, Sasha Kaun and Cole Aldrich.

"Their frontcourt is very dominant," Dorsey said. "They've got a lot of big guys that can come off the bench. We've got to get up and down the court and get points off turnovers. If we can do that, I think we can win the game."

Coming out of Douglass High, not many expected Dorsey to keep playing, let alone winning.

People refer to his neighborhood as "Iraq." He talked about the cameras on every street corner, trying to capture and choke off the heavy drug dealing. Dorsey doesn't go back home much anymore. It's not safe, he said.

"I remember walking around, dribbling a basketball 24-7 when I was younger," he said. "I would see a lot of guys 6-8, 6-9 on the corner drinking beer, smoking marijuana, everything like that.

"I didn't want to be one of those guys."

Dorsey has had his share of missteps since leaving Baltimore. There's been the incident of allegedly pouring water on a female student at Memphis, his role in what erupted into a brawl at the Plush Club on Beale Street and his hair-trigger reaction to taunting UAB fans in Birmingham, Ala., this season.

A year ago, he made headlines by saying that Ohio State's Greg Oden was overrated, only to be shown up and shut down by the Buckeyes' big guy in their regional final matchup.

Calipari said the maturation process has taken time.

"He's like a son, this kid," Calipari said. "Now he's done some of the dumbest things I can tell you over the four years he's been here. But he's grown. He's come into this own. He's the first high school graduate in his family, and now he's going to be five credits from a college degree when the year ends. Think about that."

On Monday night, he could add an NCAA championship crown to the impending sheepskin. No one wants to see him succeed more than his teammates.

"Winning for Joey would mean so much," junior guard Douglas-Roberts said. "We all know everything that he's been through and that he was with this program before it was really anything.

"I will probably be more happy for Joey when we win than he will be for himself."

Dorsey expects it to be an emotional night. But he didn't seem overwhelmed by the moment. No rash statements. No overreaction.

No problems.

"It's gonna be my last time playing on a college floor," Dorsey said. "All the guys are telling me this is for you. I'm just going to go out there and try to rebound and dominate my opponent and they will do the rest."

A very grown-up approach.

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