Memphis plays one of most unique offensive systems in the country. How much of it is scripted around pre-determined sets, and how much is left up to the improvisational skills of whoever is pushing the ball at any given moment?
Our offense is an instinct offense. I call it controlled rec ball. Our 1-4 players are capable of scoring off the dribble, so that's what our offense basically is. Beat your man off the dribble if you can...if you can't, pass it to somebody else to drive it. We run a European style offense with really athletic players. If you can't play, you can't run this offense. We do not run the conventional style of basketball.
How long until you guys hit your stride and start dropping 100 on opponents?
Haha, we won't break the century mark every game, but there will be a couple when we score in the hundreds. Teams will try and slow the game down by playing zone, so we can't score that many points.
Does Coach Calipari [a former NBA coach with the Nets] ever make comparisons between things you guys are doing at the collegiate level with the way things are in the NBA?
We try not to mention anything about the NBA at Memphis. We just focus on being good college players. That's what makes us special, because our minds are all the same. We just focus on us (Memphis). When its time for the NBA, then we'll think about it.
Are there any NBA teams or players in particular that you guys watch and emulate?
Well I compare us to the playoff Warriors. They play similar to us. The Warriors team that almost swept the Mavs last season. Because both Coaches just let the players play their games. Plus my favorite player is Stephen Jackson.
How satisfied are you with your play this season so far?
When it comes to my game I'm never satisfied. I always feel I can get better. Even though I have improved a lot, I always want to get better...I'm always thinking of ways to improve my game. So far I feel I've played ok this season, but I'm my biggest critic.
What was the part of your game that you worked the hardest on over the offseason, and how much of a chance has the world gotten to see that so far?
In the offseason I really worked hard on my perimeter and mid-range shooting; I also worked on my body. I worked out two times a day in the summer. Earlier in the day I'd lift, and later in the day I'd just shoot until I was dead tired. I didn't count shots or shots made. I just shot until I couldn't shoot anymore. And from lifting I gained 15 pounds of muscle. I don't know if the world has seen either because the season has just started, but it will!
For someone who looks a bit on the skinny side (the undershirt doesn't help), you play awfully strong with the ball. Is that something you really focus on?
I naturally play strong with the ball. There is no player who likes turning the ball over, so I make sure I protect it. When I was growing up in Detroit, we didn't call fouls, so if you weren't strong with the ball, you couldn't play. So in order for me to play, I made sure I was strong with the ball. Growing up on the West side of Detroit will toughen anybody up. You won't survive over there if you aren't tough. As for the undershirt, I've been wearing it forever now. There is no way I can take it off now, I feel naked without it.
Do you think you'll ever be able to become a prolific NBA-range 3-point shooter, or is your bread and butter in the pros always going to revolve around your slashing game?
There aren't too many prolific NBA three point shooters in the league. I can be a consistent 3 point shooter, though...but my game is slashing and being a good ball handler for my size. My ball handling skills really help me get in the lane and create shots for myself. If any pro teams are interested in me, I'm sure its because of my slashing ability. That'll always be my bread and butter.
Coming out of high school, there was talk that you were more of a combo guard rather than a true swingman. Is it wrong to say that we haven't gotten to see much in terms of point guard skills out of you so far?
My point guard skills haven't gone anywhere. I'm just playing my role on my team--to help us win. We have great point guards on this team, so I really don't have to show any of my point guard skills. I really don't have a position. I'm just a guard who can score. I really couldn't label myself as a natural swingman. I'd say I'm a shooting guard with some point guard skills.
You've been listed at 6-5 earlier in your career, to 6-6, and now even 6-7 on Memphis' official website. What is your true height?
I was 6'5 in high school and my freshman year at Memphis I was 6'6. Our trainer measured me at the beginning of this season and I was 6'7. I won't be 21 until January 8th so I'm still growing. I'm a legit 6'7 now.
Last year, when everyone and their mother started entering the draft, did you begin to have some thoughts about maybe testing the waters yourself?
Haha, I'm not one of those players who enters the draft knowing they're not ready to be pros. So when everybody started entering, I just worked out even harder. I never considered entering, because I knew I wasn't ready. That's a life changing decision that you only get one chance to make. I'll never rush it. The NBA isn't going anywhere, and my main reason for coming back was to win a NCAA Championship.
Obviously it's extremely early, but you've probably at least given a little thought as to what you need to do to put yourself in position to play in the NBA next year, right?
Of course I've given it some thought. In order for me to be a pro, I have to dominate my position every game I play in college. If I can't do that, I won't stand a chance with the 2's in the league.
After being bumped out of the NCAA tournament in two consecutive years in the Elite Eight, what kind of experience did you gain that will help you and your team make it over the hump this season and make the Final Four?
There aren't too many teams who've been to two consecutive Elite Eights. I feel by doing so, we know what it takes to advance to the Final Four. I firmly believe in the "three times the charm" phrase. If we get back to the Elite Eight, we will advance this year. Its National Championship or bust.
This year, more so than the last two, Memphis is getting a tremendous amount of hype as a national title contender. Does the extra attention concern you?
The extra attention doesn't concern us at all. We brought this pressure on ourselves. As players, we want the pressure. We didn't like being underdogs or under the radar the previous two seasons. However, we know that we won't let all the attention stop us from playing with that chip on our shoulder. We're still Memphis now, we're not a BCS school.
There have been individuals in the past who have been critical of your conference schedule, saying that it doesnt stack up with those of other highly ranked teams. What do you say to that?
I can't argue with that at all. Conference USA doesn't stack up to other conferences. But our conference isn't weak at all. Conference USA will have at least three teams in the tournament this year. UAB, Houston, and Southern Miss compete with us every year. Any given night one of those teams can beat us. We didn't blow every team out in our conference. Most of those games were close, because we're every teams big game. We have the bulls eye on our back.
With so much talent on this team, what do you see your role as?
On this team I'm one of the leaders. My team looks for me to score as well. I just play whatever role I can for us to win every night. I may have a different role any given night. But when we need a bucket, I'm the guy they look to.
What is it like playing with a player like Derrick Rose, who was so hyped coming into the season?
Its a joy playing with Derrick. Hype or no hype, he's a great player to play with. We don't pay attention to the media that much at Memphis, we just play. There isn't a team in the country who wouldn't want Derrick Rose as their point guard. I love it.
Do you look at a site like ours as being something of a distraction, considering that we focus so heavily on individual play, but knowing that really your team's overall success is likely going to play a huge role in how high you get drafted?
I can honestly say I'm probably the ONLY college player who doesn't pay attention to draft sites. I NEVER look at them, nor do I google myself. I just go play basketball. Those sites can be a distraction if you look at them. I just focus on my TEAM. Individual is for the summer time. During the season its all about team. I'll think about the NBA draft after the season is over.