To celebrate SLAM’s 30th anniversary, we’re spotlighting the 30 most influential men’s college teams from our past 30 years. Stats, records and chips aren’t the main factor here, it’s all about their contribution to the game’s cultural fabric. For the next 30 days—Monday through Friday— we’ll be unveiling the full list here. We’ve also got an exclusive retro collegiate collection, out now, that pays homage to each squad’s threads. Shop here.

Let’s take it back to ‘08. The Memphis Tigers, led by then-head coach John Calipari, had lost in the South Regional Final the season prior, but going into the ‘07-08 season, all eyes were on them to see what they would do next. 

Of course, the arrival of a 6-3, top-ranked standout from Chicago who had caught the attention of the nation during his time at Simeon Career Academy, gave the hype surrounding the Tigers an extra boost. Boost might be an understatement. We’re talking about the Rose who would eventually become one of the youngest, ever, to win the NBA’s MVP award. Not a what-if story, or what-was, but what remains: he’s one of the most aero-dynamic players of all time and has set the standard for what the word even means. 

Even back then, and with far less tattoos, Derrick Rose was bouncier than ever when he suited up for the Tigers and averaged 15 points and 4 assists per game. His court vision and ability to orchestrate plays elevated the Tigers to unprecedented heights as they embarked on a 26-game winning streak to start the season, earning them a No. 1 ranking for the first time in 25 years. While Calipari, who is one of the greatest college coaches ever, led the helm, Rose and veteran leaders like Joey Dorsey and Chris Douglas-Roberts helped guide the Tigers all the way to the NCAA tournament. 

They defeated No. 16-seeded Texas–Arlington and 8-seed Mississippi State, triumphed over No. 5 seed Michigan State and, in a dramatic regional final, outclassed a No. 2-seeded Texas team and No. 1 seed UCLA to make it all the way to the National Championship game against Kansas. Rose, ever-so composed for someone who had yet to play on the big stage, held his own for an entire 45 minutes of the overtime matchup. He dished out dimes effortlessly, commanded the offense like a true floor general and went at it against two, sometimes three defenders as he made his way to the basket. 

Despite the loss, that game was just a glimpse into the future. The Tigers sent three players to the League that June: in the ‘08 NBA Draft, Rose was selected by the Chicago Bulls with the No. 1 pick, while Douglas-Roberts and Anderson both were drafted in the second round; a testament to Calipari’s legacy in molding the game’s brightest stars. That ‘07-08 season is also tied for the most wins (38) in a single season in NCAA history, a feat only Calipari holds. He’d do it again during his tenure at Kentucky, but the record books will tell you that the ‘07-08 Memphis Team did it first. 

Photos via Getty Images.


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