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Friday, November 16, 2007

Geoff Caulkins - Historic arena will showcase Tiger phenom

Historic arena will showcase Tiger phenom
By Geoff Calkins
Thursday, November 15, 2007

NEW YORK -- Good news, Memphis! They haven't renamed the place "The Rose Garden" or anything. It's still Madison Square Garden, The World's Most Famous Arena.

It's not The Rose Garden.

Of course, Derrick Rose hasn't played a college game here yet.

That comes tonight, when Rose and the Memphis Tigers take on the Oklahoma Sooners sometime after 8 p.m. in the 2k Sports College Hoops Classic.

And, yes, I just typed "Rose and the Memphis Tigers." John Calipari's recent protests notwithstanding, that's how this is going to be billed.

The best freshman in the world on the biggest stage in the world.

"It's going to be a regular game," said Rose, who couldn't be more wrong about that.

When the Barnum and Bailey circuses merged in 1919, where did their combined show debut?

At Madison Square Garden, of course.

When the Reverend Sun Myung Moon blessed 2,075 couples simultaneously, where did he do it?

At Madison Square Garden, naturally.

The Garden is where Frazier knocked down Ali, where Wrestlemania first jumped into the ropes, where Marilyn Monroe sang "Happy Birthday, Mr. President."

"Madison Square Garden is a heckuva place to play basketball," Calipari said.

Yeah, that, too.

So this would seem to be the perfect time and place for Rose to introduce himself to the world, to show everyone else what people in Memphis already know.

Last year, a skinny 6-10 forward from Texas came to New York to play in the 2k tournament. Two games, 50 points and 19 rebounds later, everyone knew him as Kevin Durant.

"I watched those games," said Rose.

Naturally, he did. And now he'll playing in them.

"Hopefully, the spotlight will be on the whole team," said Calipari.


This is not how spotlights work, of course. Spotlights settle on the biggest stars.

Rose is the biggest star on the Memphis team, all the brighter because he's brand new.

The kid played his first two college games in Memphis, against cruddy teams, on a television network that is seen in approximately 27 households across the land.

He still was still huge news. He was all over the place. On "SportsCenter," in Sports Illustrated, on the cover of ESPN The Magazine.

Worried about the impact on the broader team, Calipari started telling everyone the media was to blame. As if the media was responsible for putting pictures of roses on billboards all over town. As if the media allowed Rose to pose for all those cover stories.

No, that was Calipari himself, who understands exactly what he has in Rose.

"He may not be the best (freshman in the country)," Calipari said, "but you're going to have to show me the other two."

And here's the other thing about Rose: He's not the kind of player who is going to be undone by all the attention tonight.

Remember when Calipari brought Rose out for one dunk at Memphis Madness?

Rose hammered it.

Because he's a star.

So now he comes to New York, fully aware of what a date at Madison Square Garden is all about.

"It's where Michael Jordan played," he said. "It's where serious basketball fans come to watch players play."

Willis Reed limped to a title at the Garden. Jordan hung 55 on the Knicks.

"I can't get so hyped up I'm not playing my game," Rose said.

That's true, too. People have made some famous blunders in this building. In 1924, Pat Harrison, a senator from Mississippi, traveled to the Democratic National Convention to give the keynote address.

What Harrison meant to say: "What we need is another Paul Revere."

What the delegates heard Harrison say: "What we need is a real beer."

This was during Prohibition, remember. It produced wild applause.

So Calipari is figuring it will all work out, mistakes or no mistakes, as Memphis continues to adapt to its new reality. The Tigers are a fine team. A fine team with a megastar in the media capital of the world.

"It's going to be ugly," said Calipari.

By that, he meant beautiful.

To reach Geoff Calkins, call him at 529-2364 or e-mail

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