When Rodney Carney was three years old, he started walking around his family's apartment in Indianapolis on tiptoe. "My cousin walked that way, so I started mimicking her," says Carney. "That's the way I walked for several years. Looking back, it really built up my calf muscles. I guess that's one reason why I can jump like I can."
Carney, a 6'7" forward with a 45-inch vertical leap, has been challenging the laws of gravity for the last decade. He first dunked a basketball, at his neighborhood court, when he was in sixth grade and stood just 5'6". In his senior year at Northwest High he averaged 21.5 points for the basketball team and won the state title in the high jump with a leap of 6'11". Entering his final collegiate season, Carney is a highlight reel waiting to happen.
"No one in the country is faster or can jump higher than Rodney," says Memphis coach John Calipari. "His signature play is stealing the ball, running down the court, then jumping from the foul line and slamming it down. But he can also really spot up and shoot. We need him to play well this year."
Carney, the top scorer (16.0), and sophomore point guard Darius Washington Jr., the Conference USA freshman of the year, are the only starters back from a team that failed to make the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2002. In fact, this will be Calipari's youngest team in his five seasons at Memphis; eight of his top 10 players are either freshmen or sophomores.
"We're long and we've got skilled players, but our season will be defined by how we respond when things start to go south," says Calipari. "We need great leadership, especially from Rodney."
Midway through last season Carney got some private tutoring from former Tigers star Penny Hardaway, a 13-year NBA veteran who spent time in Memphis last winter while rehabbing an injured hamstring. Hardaway counseled Carney on the finer points of creating shots and taught him several new post-up moves. "Penny emphasized that I need to pick my spots for when to be aggressive," says Carney. "He really helped me. Hopefully, I'll continue to grow this year."
If he does, Memphis will be back in familiar surroundings come mid-March. --Lars Anderson
LAURINBURG (N.C.) PREP
Aside from keeping River City talent from skipping town, coach John Calipari has drawn liberally from the junior college and prep school ranks. Five current Tigers spent a year at Laurinburg.
Coach: John Calipari 2004--05 record: 22--16 (9--7, T6 in C-USA)
2005 postseason: Lost in NIT semifinals to Saint Joseph's
ENEMY LINES an opposing coach's view
Conference USA is a different league after losing the likes of Louisville, Cincinnati and Marquette, so I think Memphis can take advantage of that.... If Shawne Williams plays well enough this year, he's a guy who can put his name in the NBA draft next June and get picked.... Joey Dorsey plays big and physical.... They're very talented but also young, and when you depend on young guys, things can go either way.