MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Memphis Tigers are gearing up for a run in the NCAA Tournament on Friday and Penny Hardaway isn’t the only former Tiger coaching up this year’s team. He’s getting some help from one of Memphis’ most decorated alumni.
Joey Dorsey knows something about the NCAA tournament. He played on the 2007-2008 team that went to the national championship game. After a great college and pro career. He's come back to Memphis to teach the latest generation of Tigers what it takes to be great.
If you’re around town or in FedEx Forum and see a hulking figure with a familiar face in a team polo that might be a bit too small, your eyes aren’t deceiving you. It’s likely Dorsey.
"I go to Esporta. People see me in there and be like, 'Man, you look like this guy named Joey Dorsey that used to play I'm like, 'that is me.'"
Dorsey was a Memphis Tiger from 2004 to 2008 and one of the most dominant Tigers ever.
Dorsey was a C-USA Conference Defensive Player of the Year, an All-Conference-USA first teamer and is a top 5 Tiger in field goal percentage, rebounds and blocked shots.
He played under Coach John Calipari on the same team that included Chris Douglas-Roberts and Derrick Rose. Dorsey was the defensive anchor, a role he had to grow into.
"I was fighting (Calipari) on this when I was here," Dorsey said. "(Calipari said,) 'I want you to be Ben Wallace.' I say ‘Cal, I'm not Ben Wallace man. I played three-four when I was in high school now you want to change me into this guy, got me all strong. Now I can't shoot.’"
It took another Tigers legend to convince him.
"It took Coach Penny (Hardaway). Penny came in at nighttime working out on the treadmill. We talked. He said, 'Man, listen to me. You got it. Like you're guarding your man and another man on the court.' He said, 'guys not doing that in college, you got a chance to make it.'"
As a senior in 2008, he found his groove when it mattered most - in the NCAA Tournament."
"Against Kevin Love I had 15 rebounds against UCLA and going back to the room, I'm like, "I had a bad game. I didn't even get the score." But we won the game. First thing pop up on ESPN is 'Joey Dorsey was the key to the game, he had zero points with 15 rebounds. That's why Memphis won,'" Dorsey said.
The Tigers went all the way to the national championship that year, falling to Kansas in one of the most exciting title games ever.
Dorsey went on to a pro career, both in the NBA and Europe. He crossed the pond a few times, each side helping his game.
Having accomplished his pro goals, Dorsey decided it was time to come back stateside. He had an itch to coach and who better to call than an old friend?
"I was like, 'You know what, call Penny up.' Let them know, like, 'Man, I would love to come down to Memphis and help you out with the big guys.' (Penny says) 'Come on down. We need you. Like what's holding you up?'" Dorsey said.
Hardaway asked Dorsey to handle his forwards and centers, most notably Kaodirichi Akobundu- Ehiogu, the uber athletic, but less skilled transfer.
“Okay, I'm just hands on with Kao right now. So then it was like, ok work out all the bigs and now it's like, I can see all of them getting better," Dorsey said.
He has a unique coaching approach. Having just finished a pro career, Dorsey can still hang with the young guys. He's often on the floor pregame, guarding and scoring on the current Tigers players.
"Joey speaks the language," said Hardaway. "He's closer to their age. He went to the NCAA final game. He understands how those guys feel because he was in their shoes."
"You've got to score on me, because I feel like if you can go against me and score on me, then who in the league right now is going to check you in college?" Dorsey said.
Akobundu-Ehiogu has seen noticeable improvement in his game. He employs more back to the basket moves and is getting better with his footwork in the lane.
Akobundu-Ehiogu praised the relationship and the coaching from Dorsey.
"It's been really good having him around." Akobundu-Ehiogu said. "It's different when you're being taught something by someone who's been where you're literally trying to go."
Dorsey is teaching the next generation now, putting a different type of stamp on the legacy of Joey Dorsey.
Still he enjoys when fans of the university extend a hand and a high five, or a word of encouragement.
"How the fans embrace me as if I'm from Memphis that's enough. That's enough for me. The love that I have here is unreal. I wouldn't I wouldn't want to be anywhere else then Memphis to tell you the truth."
Memphis won their first AAC championship game on Sunday against then #1 seed Houston. They earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament and were given an eight-seed.
They'll play nine-seed Florida Atlantic on Friday, March 17 at 8:20 p.m. in Columbus, Ohio.