It’s a couple of days after Thanksgiving and the University of Memphis men’s basketball team is…
Having two-a-day practices.
Despite a string of early season blowout wins, and the critically-acclaimed loss to No. 1 Kansas (57-55 during the Hall of Fame Showcase) that actually raised the team’s profile across the country, the rag-tag band of Tigers still have a lot to work on.
Giving up a trip home for Thanksgiving is the price to be paid for playing basketball at the highest levels of Division I.
“I wanted to kind of sneak home, but I live in California,” said junior gunner Roburt Sallie. “It takes half a day to get home, anyway, so I’m just gonna crash at somebody’s house, eat some good food and watch some football games.
“I did it last year, I’ll do it again. It’s a part of being at this level.”
Right now, Sallie is just happy to have the crushing weight of a shooting slump removed from his shoulders.
By now, Sallie’s story is fairly well known. If you are one of the few who is not familiar with the travails of Sallie, 23, originally from Sacramento, CA, here’s the Cliff’s Notes:
Sallie originally signed with the University of Washington out of Sacramento (Calif.) Valley High School. However, he did not meet UW eligibility standards, and opted to go to prep school in order to bolster his academic dossier.
After a season at the Patterson School and then a 40-0 year at Laurinburg Prep with (among others) Antonio Anderson and Robert Dozier, Sallie matriculated to Nebraska. However, NU somehow managed to mishandle the filing of his paperwork and by the time he enrolled at NU, he was technically ineligible.
After attending class for a few days, an obscure Big 12 rule led to his being ruled ineligible to enroll at not only NU, but at any other conference school, as well.
Sallie sat out a season before eventually enrolling at City College of San Francisco. He became California Junior College Player of the year, averaging 17 PPG and displaying his remarkable all-around game.
Division I schools were drooling over him again by the end of the 2007-08 junior college season and Sallie ended up signing with John Calipari and Memphis during the summer of 2008.
Roburt, who was classified as a sophomore, endured a hellish first season as a Tiger, landing in Calipari’s doghouse shortly after fall practice began.
“That’s always the hardest thing for a player coming in is to understand the intensity and the sacrifice and the work ethic,” Calipari said in a November 2008 article in The (Memphis) Commercial Appeal.
“Just the consistency of effort both in the classroom and the basketball court. It’s all intertwined. When I see a guy that leaves early from class, or comes and goes as he pleases, that’s exactly how he practices—last one in, first one to leave practice.
“You also see they’re at the end of every line, versus step up and be the first man. See if he can take days off. Whatever correlates in the classroom, in all my years of coaching, correlates on the court. In all areas, he’s got to be more consistent.”
As a direct result, Sallie struggled to carve out a niche in the ultra-competitive guard rotation for the talent-rich Tigers. He went into the 2009 NCAA Tournament averaging about 4.5 points per game.
He promptly set an NCAA-record with 10 three-pointers in the first round contest with Cal State-Northridge, torching the Matadors for 35 points in an 81-70 triumph.
The scintillating display immediately pegged Sallie as one of the key members of the Memphis rotation during the 2009-10 season.
Fast-forward to October 2009—no need to re-hash the myriad upheavals in Memphis basketball over the spring and summer for the umpteenth time—and Roburt Sallie was struggling with his outside shooting.
Sallie had shot an impressive 47.0 percent from beyond the three-point arc during the 2008-’09 season. When he struggled to a 1-for-14 start, his career three-point shooting percentage (.427) was still the best in school history.
But Sallie—and seemingly the entire city of Memphis—knew that the junior from California was pressing.
“Struggling, that’s how I would describe myself right now,” he said candidly in the locker room following a 92-59 victory over Tennessee Tech. “I’m in a little slump.”
Though Sallie was contributing to the cause in other ways—averaging a staggering four steals per game, contributing 12 rebounds in three contests from his guard position, and only coughing up three turnovers during that period—he was recruited to score.
If he wasn’t scoring, he was not only depriving the team of a badly needed scoring threat—only Elliot Williams (21 points per game) and Will Coleman (11 ppg) were in double figures per contest through three games—he was failing to do what he was known for doing best: filling up the basket.
“I’m a shooter, that’s what I do,” Sallie said. “I think this team this year is really leaning on me to make some shots, and I just haven’t been able to hit any jumpers. It’s frustrating to me.
“But we find other ways. If I’ve gotta play defense and lock my man down, I’ll do that.”
Then came Sallie’s breakout game against Central Arkansas.
After the entire team started out at a painfully slow pace—scoring a mere seven points in the first nine minutes—five points by sophomore sensation Williams opened the floodgates.
When Sallie splashed in a trey with 8:42 left in the first half, the same Tiger squad that had scored seven points in nine minutes had erupted for nine points in just over two.
Sallie ended the night with a season-high 17 points, including 3-of-5 shooting from downtown, as the sluggish-starting Memphis team pulled away for an 81-49 triumph over the Bears.
If anything was exposed in the 57-55 loss to Kansas, it was the Tigers’ lack of offensive firepower. Sallie only managed five total points on 2-10 shooting, and he misfired on all six of his attempts from beyond the arc.
Sallie chipped in with four rebounds and four steals against the Jayhawks, but it was clear that the Tigers needed his prowess as a shooter.
Through it all, Roburt has maintained a shooter’s mentality, and he is confident that his shooting woes will not continue indefinitely.
“My shooting has not been where I want it to be right now,” he observed, “but it’s so early in the season to try to dictate how I’m gonna shoot the rest of the season. I’ll just keep taking shots and continue to get open looks.”
If the Tigers are going to get back to the big dance, he’s going to have to.
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