|A promise finally delivered: Calipari, Memphis heading to Final Four|
|Written by Admin|
|Monday, 31 March 2008 11:41|
Tigers fans expect a lot. And Calipari remembers back to 2005 when they were so upset about missing the NCAA tournament that they filled his yard with the signs.
Now the wait is over. Calipari has delivered the Final Four trip fans have been craving since the school hired him in 2000.
``Every once in a while my mind would go to like, 'Wow, this group of kids really did some special things this year.' ... The way we played this weekend, we deserve to be in the Final Four,'' Calipari said Monday during a conference call.
Yes, they do, even if Memphis looks a bit out of place next to UCLA, North Carolina or Kansas when it comes to tradition.
When Memphis (37-1) plays UCLA in the national semifinal Saturday in San Antonio, it will be the Tigers' third Final Four and first since 1985. Compare that to UCLA in its 18th trip or North Carolina (17th) or Kansas (13th) in the first Final four with all four No. 1 seeds.
Basketball is as much a Memphis pastime as barbecue. This is the school that produced players with names like Baskerville (Holmes) and Penny (Hardaway) and stars Larry Finch and Keith Lee.
The Tigers were all the buzz Monday, a day after the 85-67 rout of Texas in the regional final. In stores and restaurants there was no shortage of TV highlights of All-American Chris Douglas-Roberts, freshman sensation Derrick Rose and shot-swatting senior Joey Dorsey.
But other than the 1973 national championship loss to UCLA and Bill Walton, Memphis had been to the regional championship only twice before Calipari arrived. And the Tigers hadn't been since 1992 when they had a future NBA star in Hardaway.
The 1985 Final Four ended with a loss to eventual champ Villanova in the national semifinals, a trip that no longer counts because of rules violations.
Calipari made it to the Final Four with Massachusetts in 1996. His hiring in 2000 stunned Tigers' fans, who see this program as one of the nation's best even if the results haven't always been there. He promised to return Memphis to national prominence following his firing from the New Jersey Nets in 1999.
It took Calipari longer than expected, hence those signs in 2005. The only national title was the 2002 NIT, and Memphis seemed destined to keep coming up short with two straight losses in the regional finals.
But Calipari sensed this team was different. He has been telling fans to sit back, relax and enjoy a special group of players.
He was right. These Tigers know how to win.
UCLA coach Ben Howland said Memphis easily could be 38-0 if not for a 66-62 loss to Tennessee on Feb. 23 that could have gone the Tigers' way.
``It's just an incredible challenge to plan to defend them and score on them because of their athletic ability,'' Howland said.
And while Calipari may be too busy breaking down UCLA, his Tigers know their coach is having fun by watching them.
``He's more happy for us than he is for himself,'' Douglas-Roberts said. ``He always says ... he's so happy for us. He says we deserve it because he's been here before. We never have. So what makes him most happy is seeing us happy and seeing us make it to the Final Four.''
Calipari has only one message he shares with these Tigers in the locker room.
``I'm talking about, 'It's our time. It's our time,''' he said. ``They gave us a tough road. We had to play Texas in Houston. But, still, this is our time. It's our time.''