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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Rose's progress pleases Tigers

Rose's progress pleases Tigers
Transition to college ongoing for freshman
By Jim Masilak
Monday, January 7, 2008

If there are a million people living in the Memphis metropolitan area, then John Calipari estimates there must be a million basketball "laymen."

The University of Memphis coach excluded, of course.

So while Derrick Rose's recent performances may not be what a so-called layman would expect from a potential No. 1 draft pick, Calipari sees something different.

"I'm happy with him," Calipari said following Saturday's 90-53 romp over Pepperdine, during which Rose scored five points and handed out six assists. "To have a player that good who doesn't care if he scores 30? ... If people are actually watching him play, it doesn't change their opinion. When he plays hard, they think he's unbelievable. And he plays hard."

If the No. 2-ranked Tigers' past three games have revealed anything, however, it's that their highly regarded freshman point guard is still a work in progress. Though Rose says "there's nothing (critics) can say when you're winning by 40," it isn't being unkind to suggest he has some work to do before he's ready to run the point in the NBA.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

"He's just a freshman. He's learning," senior point guard Andre Allen said. "The fans know he's a high school all-American, but college ball is a lot tougher. A lot tougher."

While Rose has made a smoother transition than most, it's an ongoing process for a point guard.

Dynamite in transition, where his speed on the dribble is breathtaking and his decision-making usually excellent, Rose has been somewhat less effective as a facilitator when faced with tightly packed defenses designed to cut off the Tigers' dribble-drive penetration.

If Rose has appeared uncertain at times about how to best attack a defense, or seemed a bit slow in identifying what's being thrown at him, junior forward Robert Dozier says he isn't alone.

"He's not the only one going through that," Dozier said. "We all have problems sometimes recognizing what they're in. Once we recognize it, it's all cool."

Never one to shy away from an opening, Allen said there's a simple answer to unlocking what the Tigers often refer to as "junk" defenses.

"Just drive the ball," he said. "Everybody thinks you've got to drive the ball to score. You've got to drive the ball to get other people shots."

Seemingly content with his contributions thus far for a 13-0 club, Rose didn't offer much when asked about any potential areas for growth in his game.

"I really just need to be more aggressive. That's the big thing," said Rose, who is averaging 14 points, 4.6 assists, 4.5 rebounds and 3.3 turnovers per game for the Tigers. "If you don't attack, you make it hard for yourself."

While Rose has delivered when it's mattered most -- his 24-point effort against Connecticut and game-winning 26-point performance at Cincinnati stand out in particular -- there have also been some moments when he has perhaps blended in a little too much.

Last Thursday, the Chicago native turned in a muted display during an easy victory over Siena. The freshman had six points and six assists and did not turn the ball over, but he was largely invisible in the face of inferior opposition.

The same could be said of his play Saturday against the Waves.

Those performances came in the wake of what could best be described as a frantic effort against Arizona. Although Rose scored 12 points against the Wildcats, who played without injured freshman point guard Jerryd Bayless, he also committed six turnovers -- most of them coming on wild drives to the basket.

Billed as a pass-first point guard, Rose's tendency when penetrating has been to shoot rather than kick out to the perimeter or dish when defenders collapse on him. Because he is admittedly still learning how to use his body to protect the ball when driving in traffic, many of his turnovers have come while driving the lane.

At the same time, while Rose is regarded as an average shooter, his field-goal percentage (47.7 percent) suggests he has been judicious in picking his shots. His marksmanship from 3-point range (36.4 percent) has also been a pleasant surprise for the Tigers.

"He's done it when we've needed it," Allen said of Rose's offensive production. "But if somebody else gets going, he realizes there's no need to force it."

Rose's numbers may not be as impressive as those of fellow freshmen Michael Beasley and Eric Gordon, both of whom are among the nation's leaders in scoring, but he says the Tigers' results thus far speak for themselves.

"I'm just trying to learn," he said. "That's it."

-- Jim Masilak: 529-2311

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