Path from Chicago to Memphis full of potential traps, but sibling steered Rose
By Dan Wolken
Sunday, November 4, 2007
As a boy, Derrick Rose would run through the streets of Englewood, one of Chicago's roughest neighborhoods, to the most secure place he knew. At his grandmother's house, Rose could escape the realities of the single-parent home he grew up in and a community marked by decaying buildings, rampant poverty and violent crime.
"She was like my savior," Rose said.
She called him "Pooh," taken from the fictional bear Winnie the Pooh, whose obsession with honey reminded her of young Derrick's desire for sweets, which he still indulges.
The nickname stuck, but it was not until years later, after Rose had dunked a basketball in the seventh grade, after word began to spread all over Chicago that a prodigy was living among them, that Rose realized there was a greater significance revealed by looking at the letters backward.
There are so many stories wrapped up in that little four-letter word. Every day, it spawns countless urban dreams of NBA riches. And every day, it inspires just as many to prey upon those rare few with the talent to achieve them.
Unlike many from his neighborhood, Rose has already come this far, to the University of Memphis, where Monday the 6-foot-3 point guard will play the first game of his college career.
For Rose, the path to this moment has been carefully orchestrated by his three older brothers, who knew early on what he could become and did all they could to ensure Rose would not end up like some of the other talented hoop dreamers who never made it out of Englewood.
At Simeon Career Academy, where Rose went to high school, the best player on the basketball team traditionally wears No. 25 to honor Ben Wilson, a point guard who seemed destined for stardom until he was shot to death on Nov. 20, 1984, the day before the first game of his senior season.
That tragic story resonated deeply with Rose's brothers. By his early teens, it was already clear that Derrick's uncommon blend of athleticism, strength, basketball IQ and unselfishness would attract both opportunities and opportunists.
Reggie Rose, the second-oldest brother and now age 32, was well acquainted with both elements of Chicago's basketball culture. Out of high school, he was offered a scholarship to Cincinnati but did not qualify. So he went to junior college, then the University of Idaho, then came back and eventually went to work for Pepsi.
Because of his background, Reggie Rose recognized the street agents, drug dealers and others ready to move in on the young star. So along with his brothers, Dwayne and Allan, they built a protective wall around Derrick and kept most everyone else out, providing the same sense of security he had felt in his grandmother's living room.
"I said, I need to cover this up right away before it gets out of hand," he said. "I didn't have any other choice."
In the support system they built, Derrick was always monitored closely. His whereabouts and even his friends were subject to constant scrutiny. Derrick, however, was not always a willing participant.
"You had people taking him all the way to the west side of Chicago, where he wasn't supposed to be," Reggie Rose said. "It was hard because of what people were telling him. He said to me, 'You're trying to choose my friends.' I said, 'No, I'm not trying to choose your friends. You're 15 years old. There's no way you should be hanging around a 34- or 35-year-old man who doesn't have a son your age.'"
"I got real mad," Derrick Rose said. "He didn't want me hanging near people he thought were not good for me. But I listened to him, and everything's good."
After that episode, Reggie pulled Derrick out of the AAU program he had played in and began his own, coaching Derrick and the Mean Streets Express. For other AAU coaches, college recruiters and media members, access to Derrick was limited, and the message was clear. To get to Derrick, you went through Reggie, and Reggie alone.
Memphis coach John Calipari says he only spoke to Rose twice during the entire recruiting process and didn't talk to Rose's mother, Brenda, until the end.
"They just told me, leave her out of it," Calipari said.
As the public face and voice for his younger brother -- who was allowed to speak to the media only a handful of times during high school -- Reggie Rose quickly became a controversial figure, often painted as the kind of person he was trying to keep away.
"They were saying I was trying to live out my own basketball dreams, that I was looking for money," Reggie Rose said. "He knows, it isn't about me. It's about him."
The Rose family did let one person inside their circle, at least to some degree.
William Wesley, known in the basketball industry as "Worldwide Wes," forged a close friendship with Calipari through Dajuan Wagner, the first major recruiting coup of his tenure at Memphis. Wagner's father, Milt Wagner, grew up with Wesley, and through that connection, Wesley built relationships with NBA players and executives, including Michael Jordan.
Though Wesley is not officially connected to any pro team, college or shoe company, a GQ article earlier this year asked if he was the most powerful man in basketball.
Because of the years Wesley spent in Chicago, he knew about Rose and ultimately became an advocate for Memphis in a recruiting battle that also included Illinois and Indiana. But Calipari said Wesley's influence in most matters -- and particularly in Rose's recruitment -- has been exaggerated to mythic proportions.
Because of Calipari's experience with Wagner and his running mate, Arthur Barclay, who was a success story for Memphis, he said it would only make sense for Wesley to recommend Memphis as a good place for Rose to play college basketball, especially if he wasn't going to play all four years.
"Derrick's not the one talking about being one-and-done," Calipari said. "But William Wesley could tell them, because of Dajuan Wagner, if I have a player who is ready to play in the NBA and has the opportunity to be a high draft pick, I'm going to tell them (to leave)."
Regardless of what role Wesley played, Reggie and Derrick Rose both say it wasn't until after they visited Memphis last October that he decided to play for the Tigers, immediately stamping them as a favorite to win the national championship in 2008.
But before Rose announced his decision at a press conference in Chicago, the quiet, shy teenager said he had to convince Reggie to come to Memphis with him.
"I said, 'Man, that's a big step,'" Reggie Rose said. "We didn't just wake up and say, let's move from Chicago to Memphis. I just told my wife, 'I started this, and I've got to finish this.'"
So Reggie Rose packed up his home and brought his family to Memphis, where he can continue to watch over his brother. He travels back to Chicago often because his work is based there.
"I've got an AAU foundation out of Chicago through Nike, and I'm a director, and I work with inner-city youth in Chicago," he said. "I'm employed by Nike through AAU basketball. Then I've got a nonprofit organization that helps out kids from the Englewood community."
"That would have been hard," Derrick Rose said of the idea of coming to Memphis without Reggie. "My nieces are here, and it makes me feel like I've got a little piece of family here. With them here, it seems like it's a relief."
Though Reggie Rose periodically stops by practice, he has taken a back seat as Derrick has become more comfortable with college life. The four and five phone calls a day from Derrick to his brother have steadily diminished. Rose, who barely said a word his first few weeks here, is talking and smiling more than ever.
"They want to keep an eye on things because what's happened is, the kid hasn't been on the street," Calipari said. "He's not a street kid. There's mistakes they don't want him to make that he hasn't had the choice to make. That's why they guard him."
The process is ongoing. Even at Memphis, the phone calls from agents haven't stopped. Reggie said he shields as much as he can while Rose readies for an even bigger whirlwind that will follow if he lives up to the hype.
Even on a team of well-established stars, nobody has been talked about or photographed more this preseason than Rose, a typical recipe for jealousy. But perhaps the biggest indicator of Rose's ability is that nobody seems to mind.
"He deserves it, and he knows he deserves it," junior Chris Douglas-Roberts said. "What he did in high school and everything that comes with Derrick, I think he deserves it. And when he performs on the court, you can't help but recognize his talent."
Now, Rose's safety net consists of Douglas-Roberts, Antonio Anderson, Joey Dorsey and others, whose presence and experience will allow him to feel his way through these opening weeks with little consequence if he struggles.
Trying to win a national championship can be a daunting task for a freshman. But just like the road he took here, Rose won't have to go it alone.
Reach Dan Wolken at 529-2365. Read his blogs on the Tigers at thememphisedge.com.