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Sunday, November 04, 2007

Freshman Rose key to Tigers' high hopes

Freshman Rose key to Tigers' high hopes

By Dan Wolken
Friday, November 2, 2007


More than a month ago, these were the observations of freshman point guard Derrick Rose that I scribbled on my notepad while watching him in a structured practice setting for the first time.

"He's F-A-S-T, but doesn't know how to play. Defers too much. Might need a long adjustment period. Don't overhype."

Since I first made those notes, I have seen Rose do dozens of things on the basketball court to make me wish I had never written them. Every day since, his athleticism and strength has wowed me, his court vision has produced one scintillating moment after another, and that whole thing about not shooting enough? I think he's over it. Quite simply, Rose is better than I expected. Way better.

And because I now understand what Rose is capable of, I turned in my preseason ballot for The Associated Press top 25, which will be released today, with the University of Memphis ranked No. 1.

Mind you, when I first agreed to be one of 72 AP voters this season, I was not sure which team would get my No. 1 vote. Based on experience, talent and coaching, I could have ranked UCLA, North Carolina, Kansas or Memphis in any order Nos. 1-4 and defended my position rather easily.

Nobody can grind it out better than the Bruins, who have been the trendy No. 1 pick in preseason magazines after back-to-back Final Fours and the addition of star freshman center Kevin Love. Kansas returns seven of its top eight players and has at least a couple of future NBA pros. North Carolina is probably just as deep and just as talented as Memphis.

But what pushed me toward Memphis, in the end, was Rose. Even without him, the Tigers would be no worse than what they were at the end of last year, which was somewhere between the fifth- and eighth-best team in the country. And when you consider that some of the teams ahead of them were gutted (Florida and Ohio State) and others lost at least one key starter to the NBA (Georgetown), Memphis would still be in that top-four group.

Furthermore, it's pretty easy to tell how much Rose is ready to contribute right now because you can judge him every day in the Finch Center against some of the best players in the country, players who have been battle-tested by two straight Elite Eights.

To say the Chicago product is holding his own would be a vast understatement. Since his first practice, Rose has come so far, so fast, that coach John Calipari is struggling to contain his giddiness.

It probably would have been easier for me, as the beat writer assigned to cover Memphis, to pick any of the other three options at No. 1. As a journalist, objectivity is everything. By voting Memphis in the top spot, I opened myself up to questions about that objectivity. Heck, I even questioned it myself.

But at the end of the day, turning in a different vote simply to prove a point would have been self-serving and disrespectful to a poll that I take seriously. I fully expect the Tigers to, at some point, provide me with a reason not to vote them No. 1. Their schedule is too difficult, their grip on the spot too fragile. But for now, I can't put anybody else at the top of my ballot.

Reach Dan Wolken at 529-2365. Read his blogs on Tiger basketball at

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