This Rose will bloom in Memphis
June 20, 2007
By Gary Parrish
CBS SportsLine.com Senior Writer
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- A man inserts a dollar into the jukebox under the Stax poster, and a Jerry Lee Lewis hit recorded at Sun Studio blares from the speakers, that opening piano note unmistakable, undeniable, and uninhibited like "The Killer" himself.
On the wall by the register are newspaper clips with headlines declaring "Tigers take it to 'em" and "Blue Heaven," and in the air hangs the scent of slow cooked pork, the kind Central BBQ advertises right on those plastic cups.
So regardless of the preferred sense -- sight, sound or smell -- it's hard to mistake this is Memphis.
And Derrick Rose is in the middle of it.
He's soaking it up.
"I wish the season could've started right when I got off the plane," Rose says. "But I've got to wait a couple more months."
More like five months, to be exact. But it's easy to lose track of time while having lunch and trying to make sure nothing is left on the bone. Performing otherwise with a rack of ribs is a sin in this city, like not loving your mama or calling her ma'am. So Rose does the best he can, gets full, gets up and gets a look at his white shorts that are now stained with a combination of famous sauce and rub.
"Ahh," Rose sighs. "It's all over me."
A freshman mistake, to be sure.
But rest assured, Memphis fans, he's gonna learn fast.
"Our ultimate goal is to win the national championship"
There is no shortage of reasons why Memphis sits atop CBS SportsLine.com's preseason college basketball rankings. Back-to-back Elite Eights and five returning starters are two of the major ones, but perhaps the most important is the recent arrival of the guy with the stained shorts -- not to mention quick first-step, deadly crossover and overall athleticism that packaged together has some projecting Rose as the No. 1 pick of the 2008 NBA Draft.
That's next year, though.
Between now and then, this 6-foot-3 point guard is expected to lead the Tigers to the Final Four, if not their first national title. He's that good, surrounded by other players who are that good, too. Which is why when the subject comes up, Rose doesn't duck it. While shaking hands with some of his new fans who happen to be enjoying lunch at the table beside us, the Chicago native explains how this is why he plays basketball, why he chose Memphis, why if somebody offered the chance to step onto the FedExForum court right now and tip it off against Georgetown, Arizona or any of the other teams scheduled to visit this season, he'd change shorts and head downtown, grab a ball and run a fast break.
"Just thinking about it is making me happy," Rose says. "Our ultimate goal is to win the national championship."
Those are strong words for an 18-year-old, but this isn't your normal 18-year-old. Hell, this isn't even your normal 18-year-old prodigy. For a McDonald's All-American and future millionaire, Rose is remarkably humble. He's quiet, but not shy. He's confident, but not cocky. On one end of the spectrum is Southern California freshman O.J. Mayo throwing a ball off the backboard, dunking it, tossing it into the crowd and ripping his shirt off before being ejected from a West Virginia state title game. On the other end is Rose distributing his way to an Illinois state championship while choosing to make just one basket.
"This kid can be unselfish to a fault," Memphis coach John Calipari says regularly. "I want him to be more selfish."
Pressed on the issue, Rose promises he will. But it's his willingness to use his unique ability to create opportunities for others that will likely make his transition to college seamless. Because though he is a star by any standard, all things being equal Rose would rather dish 10 assists to help Chris Douglas-Roberts score 20 points than take 10 shots of his own. That's a refreshing mindset for a newcomer set to join a starting lineup featuring three juniors (Douglas-Roberts, Antonio Anderson and Robert Dozier) and a senior (Joey Dorsey).
"He's like Jason Kidd," Douglas-Roberts explains. "Who wouldn't want to play with Jason Kidd?"
Joumana Kidd, I guess.
But the list probably begins and ends there.
"Derrick is going to be great," says former NBA point guard Rod Strickland, who serves on Calipari's staff as the director of student-athlete development. "He has Jason Kidd qualities. His floor sense is unbelievable, and he's unselfish. He's a throwback point guard. He's my kind of point guard."
Strickland and I are having this conversation at the Bert Ferguson Community Center in east Memphis while watching Rose -- along with Douglas-Roberts, Anderson and Dozier -- conduct a camp for youths about an hour post rack of ribs. In passing I ask where Rose would be selected if he was eligible for this month's NBA Draft.
"High," Strickland answers without hesitation. "I'd take him ahead of Mike Conley."
Will you sign this, please?
Rose has been in Memphis less than four days at the time of this camp, yet many of the 7-year-olds recognize him immediately. It would be strange under most circumstances. But given how the Tigers have drawn television ratings that rival those of American Idol, it's actually not strange at all.
"They are very familiar with him," confirms Willie Biles, the community center's director. "I think him being in the McDonald's (All-American) game and on TV so much made it where they were looking forward to meeting him."
Did it ever.
After 15 minutes of shooting, this camp is turning into nothing more than an autograph session. One after another the kids hound Rose. And me.
"Can I have a sheet of that paper?" asks one little girl, pointing at my notebook. "I want to get his autograph."
I hand the girl a sheet.
It leads to absolute chaos.
Now I am totally surrounded.
"You're not going to have any paper left," Strickland laughs.
All the while, Rose is scribbling at a high rate. He writes his name and uniform number each time. But suddenly that's not good enough.
"Will you draw a smiley face on it?" asks a little boy.
A smiley face?
"Yeah," the boy answers. "A smiley face."
Here to please, Rose laughs and draws a smiley face beside his name and number. A few minutes later, I chase the boy down, pursue an explanation to this odd request.
"Why did you want Derrick to draw a smiley face?" I ask.
"Because," the boy answers, "that way I'll know that he's happy."
Over to the side, Rose is smiling at all this.
He sure looks happy.
Particularly for a guy with stained shorts and five months to wait.