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October 31, 2007

Rose could be missing piece for Memphis

Rivals.com has selected the top 25 storylines for the 2007-08 college basketball season and will be releasing articles daily, counting down from No. 25 to No. 1. The No. 6 storyline takes us to Memphis, where the Tigers are expecting big things from a true freshman point guard.

University of Memphis players are featured in a series of billboards around the city encouraging fans to buy season tickets.

The billboard for All-American candidate Chris Douglas-Roberts says "Get C.D.R. A.S.A.P."

The billboard for center Joey Dorsey shows him dunking and reads, "That's Mister Dorsey To You."

Two billboards with different players pictured read the same thing: "2 Seasons. 66 Wins. Any Questions?"

What do all four of the billboards have in common? On the bottom of each next to the Tigers' logo and between the words "Season Tickets" and the phone number to call to get the tickets is a red rose.

The rose isn't there because John Calipari likes flowers.

In one of the cleverest marketing moves since Notre Dame decided "Theismann" now rhymed with "Heisman," the coach and ad agency Carpenter Sullivan Sossaman set a hard screen on the NCAA. Prohibited by NCAA rule from using an incoming freshman in an ad campaign, they simply used a blooming rose.

The most anticipated recruit at Memphis in years is named Derrick Rose, a Chicago native who is Rivals.com's No. 1 point guard and the No. 3 overall prospect among incoming freshmen. If the Tigers are to go further than the Elite Eight appearances they made in each of the past two seasons, it will be in large part to their "Rare Fall Bloom," another line from another billboard.

"That was real cool," Rose told Rivals.com. "It's the first time I saw something with me on a billboard. Well, you know, kind of me."

It almost assuredly won't be the last time he'll be on a billboard. Rose, who is 6 feet 3 and 190 pounds, is a favorite of Rivals.com national recruiting analyst Jerry Meyer.

"Rose's ability to create scoring opportunities, his willingness to share the ball and his capability of taking over a game with his scoring during crunch time make it clear that his top priority is winning," Meyer said. "He has lightning speed and power with the ball, he gets into the lane with ease and he is a very good rebounder."

In short, he's about everything you could want in a point guard. New teammates Dorsey and Douglas-Roberts said at Conference USA Media Day that he was the fastest player they had seen with the ball. Rose has done nothing to disappoint during summer workouts and preseason practice.

"I think I'm adjusting well," Rose said. "If there's anything I need to work on, I think I need to get my basketball IQ higher and be a better leader.

"I'm going to be fine this year. The offense fits me to a 'T.' "

Memphis' schedule has a few thorns in it. The nonconference slate includes USC, Georgetown, Arizona, Gonzaga and Tennessee, not to mention a possible date with Kentucky or Connecticut in the 2K College Hoops Classic final at Madison Square Garden.

The Tigers, though, aren't likely to wilt under the pressure. Calipari has loaded the nonconference schedule because Conference USA teams haven't posed a threat the past two seasons (Memphis is 29-1 in league games during that stretch).

"That was one of the reasons why I chose to go here," Rose said. "He (Calipari) said if I came in here, it would be a good schedule, he'd load it up. That's what he did. It's one of toughest nonconference schedules there is."

Calipari also has a loaded roster. It has all five starters returning. It has scorers (Douglas-Roberts, Rose). It has size (returning starters Dorsey and Robert Dozier are 6-9, and Iowa State transfer Shawn Taggart is 6-10). It has speed (Rose, Willie Kemp). It has tough defenders (Dorsey, Antonio Anderson).

The Tigers lost sixth man Jeremy Hunt, the designated 3-point shooter. Hunt hit 89 3-pointers and was the team's second-leading scorer at 14.1 points per game. But Rose, Anderson and Doneal Mack (47 3-pointers last season in only 14.2 minutes per game) should more than make up for his production.

Memphis could be headed for a special season.

What could smell sweeter?

Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at bmcclellan@rivals.com.

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