Monday, March 3, 2008

FROM MY SEAT: Goodbye, and Good Luck

Posted By on Mon, Mar 3, 2008 at 4:00 AM

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This Saturday at FedExForum, before the Memphis Tigers end their regular season against UAB, the U of M will honor Joey Dorsey and Andre Allen with its annual Senior Day. The rite of passage has become somewhat of an oddity, as many recent Tiger stars -- Dajuan Wagner, Darius Washington, Shawne Williams, and presumably Derrick Rose -- never so much as reach a fourth season as a Tiger, leaving campus early for the siren call of professional basketball.

The pregame march to center court, family and flowers in hand, remains a touching tribute to the young men who do, in fact, give all they have in terms of eligibility to the Tiger program. But I'm going to go out on a limb - a thick and sturdy one -- and say the U of M has never honored as mercurial, as vexing a class as they will with the pair we'll see Saturday. (Neither Allen nor Dorsey is on schedule to graduate in May. They'll be encouraged -- like every former Tiger still shy of his diploma -- to continue their education toward its completion.)

Allen enrolled at the U of M having starred at Booker T. Washington High School, where he was twice named Class AA Mr. Basketball and his 949 career assists established a Shelby Metro record. But Allen couldn't possibly have started his college life more astray than he did. Compounding difficulties in the classroom, Allen was arrested for soliciting prostitution and sat out his entire freshman (2004-05) basketball season.

He persevered, though, and became the face of the Tigers' 2006 NCAA tournament run, draining three treys against Oral Roberts in the first round and proving that height -- Allen stands 5'10" when he wears extra socks -- has little to do with stature during March Madness. As a backup to point guards Washington, Willie Kemp, and this season, Rose, Allen has been that proverbial spark plug off the bench for coach John Calipari, keeping the pace of the Tiger offense in the red line even with the second unit on the floor.

I remember sitting in the media room after Joey Dorsey's first game as a Tiger, a whitewashing of Savannah State on November 11, 2004. I asked local sportscaster Greg Gaston if this freshman from Baltimore was supposed to get 16 rebounds in his collegiate debut. Greg was just as astonished at Dorsey's stat line (which included 10 points). Four seasons later, the most astonishing aspect of Dorsey's career is how very little he seems to have improved from that night well over 100 games ago. He'll leave Memphis second only to Keith Lee in career rebounds. And he's won more games in a Tiger uniform than any other player in the program's long, proud history. (Dorsey's been a part of 116 wins as a Tiger. With four more, he'll have more notches on his belt than Elliot Perry and Penny Hardaway COMBINED.)

But even with his athleticism and a body that would have many NBA players negotiating with the devil, Dorsey's value to his team is impossible to gauge. Three days after grabbing 22 rebounds in a big Tiger win this season at Houston, he managed but four boards in a near-loss to UTEP at home.

And Dorsey's trouble off the court somehow trumps Allen's. As a sophomore, he was in the middle of a water-throwing incident on campus, apparently drenching a female student. Last September, it was Dorsey slinging money from atop a bar in a downtown club that spurred a near riot and earned handcuffs for teammates Shawn Taggart and Jeff Robinson. And with UAB in town for Senior Day, Tiger fans will fight flashbacks to February 16th in Birmingham. With Blazer fans slinging more than epithets after a last-second Tiger win, Dorsey was kept from returning fire only by the restraints of his coaching staff. Dorsey unleashed has become a horrifying proposition.

The cheers for these two seniors as they near their Tiger hoops coda will be tremendous. Dorsey, in particular, has been among the most popular Tiger players of the last decade, kids and grannies alike embracing their Joey as a lovable -- flawed, as we all are -- giant. Allen and Dorsey need to soak up those cheers, as they will reach the pinnacle of their basketball lives in the coming weeks, however far the Tigers advance in the NCAA tournament. Neither player will make a living in the NBA.

Ironically, both Dorsey (24) and Allen (23 in April) are older than most current NBA rookies. They will be, yes, unleashed from Calipari's watch, from the loving gaze of Tiger Nation, each with most of his life in front of him. Having played central roles in the most successful three-year stretch in Tiger basketball history, these two interdisciplinary studies majors will aim their lives toward the right track, one must hope. And within that premise -- and that wordy major -- is perhaps an answer for the riddles of their college lives.

With discipline, comes success.

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