Vertical jumps can be measured. How long it takes to dribble from one end line to the other can be timed. Points, rebounds, blocks, and assists per game are all logged, charted, and compared. It seems that just about anything a person does on a basketball court can be quantified in some way.
How, though, can we really quantify who are "winners?"
Bill Russell was a winner. His San Francisco Dons teams went 14-7, 28-1, and 29-0, winning national titles in the latter two seasons (1954-55 and 1955-56). After the dual NCAA championships, Russell turned around and won Olympic Gold at the 1956 Games in Melbourne, Australia. 1957 promptly marked the first of his astounding 11 NBA Titles in just 13 seasons.
The last two of those NBA crowns, by the way, came with Russell as player-coach.
It’s safe to call Bill Russell the greatest winner in the history of American sports.
Yet Russell was quite often the superstar on his teams. That makes it very easy to say, "Bill Russell was a winner." But the Celtics never once sent their star center out onto the court to play 1-on-5, even when Russell himself was calling the shots.
K.C. Jones played beside Russell on both NCAA Championship teams, the 1956 U.S. Olympic champions, and on eight NBA titlists in nine seasons. Known for his shutdown defensive wizardry, Jones was inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame with a mere 7.4 points-per-game average.
Jones knew his role, and he performed it effectively. This is what made him a winner.
All good teams have a superstar, sometimes two. Great teams might have three superstars. Winning teams, though, simply have a proper balance of star power and seemingly lesser players who are just as indispensable.
This brings me to a pair of very remarkable young men who have proven themselves to be real winners: Antonio Anderson and Robert Dozier, the senior leaders of the Memphis Tigers.
Neither of the young men puts up the types of eye-popping statistics that would mark them as superstars. Anderson, the 6-6 swingman who plays four positions for the Tigers, entered the 2008-09 campaign with modest career averages of 7.9 points per game, 3.7 rebounds per game, and 3.3 assists per game. He has chipped those figures up to 10.5, 5.2, and 4.2, respectively.
Dozier, the lanky forward who stands 6-9 but has a 7-3 wingspan, began this season averaging 8.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per outing. He has improved modestly as well, ranking second on the team in points per game (12.4), rebounds per contest (6.7), and blocks (46, 1.7 per game).
As freshmen, Anderson and Dozier cut their teeth while future pros Rodney Carney, Darius Washington, Jr., and Shawne Williams scored the points and shared the glory. The following season saw senior Jeremy Hunt and sophomore Chris Douglas-Roberts step to the forefront and carry the scoring burden. When Anderson and Dozier were juniors, it was Douglas-Roberts and Derrick Rose.
In truth, Anderson and Dozier have spent their careers filling roles—playing tenacious defense, grabbing rebounds, diving on the floor to save loose balls, scoring baskets at critical moments when the "go-to guy" was triple-teamed.
In other words, the dynamic duo have played winning basketball.
This should come as no surprise to hardcore basketball junkies. After all, Anderson and Dozier played high school ball on what is widely regarded as one of the best prep teams of all time. In 2004-05, Laurinburg Prep scorched the high school landscape, finishing 40-0 and winning the mythical national title.
However, before transferring to Laurinburg Prep, Anderson helped lead Lynn Tech in his home state of Massachusetts to a state title in 2002. Dozier was a two-time All-State selection at Lithonia High School in Georgia.
What these two young men have done since they enrolled at the University of Memphis is astounding. Season marks of 33-4, 33-4, 38-2, and 24-3, when added to the phenomenal senior year at Laurinburg, bumps their ledger to an otherworldly 168 wins, 13 losses in five campaigns.
Put another way, the duo averages 33.6 wins per season (with a few more wins certain to sweeten that total by the end of this season), while winning a breathtaking 92.8 percent of their games. They are currently riding a 54-game conference win streak. With 128 wins, they are a mere four victories away from breaking the NCAA Division I career record.
Many will say that playing the likes of Central Florida, East Carolina, Marshall, Rice, Southern Methodist, and Tulane—some of the tasty morsels in Conference USA—has contributed greatly to the gaudy win total. There is some powerful merit to that idea.
However, it simply cannot be ignored that winners find a way to triumph, especially in games that they are supposed to win. The Memphis Tigers have not lost to a team with an RPI below 50 at the time of the contest since November 2006. Just toss that one around for a minute.
November 2006. That’s more than two years, three months ago. The last Conference USA loss was two years, 360 days ago.
Anderson is one of the premier on-ball wing defenders in the land. He is an excellent rebounder from the guard position, capably runs the point a few minutes a night, and finishes in traffic with authority.
Dozier, despite his thin frame, is a surprisingly sticky post defender while swatting shots and supporting the Memphis pressure defense capably. His length makes him a matchup nightmare, and he has added an array of drives that has given his offensive attack more bite.
Anderson and Dozier are a big part of why Memphis wins. By putting aside their egos and doing the dirty work on the basketball court, the duo just keeps on rolling. That’s why the young men can be called "winners."