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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

South Florida Sun-Sentinel - Loss doesn't take bloom off Memphis' Derrick Rose

South Florida Sun-Sentinel - Loss doesn't take bloom off Memphis' Derrick Rose
Mike Berardino | Sports columnist

Derrick Rose sat slumped in a golf cart outside the Memphis locker room late Monday night, tears welling in his hollow eyes as the Rev. Jesse Jackson stood nearby.

The freshman point guard had given everything he had in this 75-68 overtime loss to Kansas, but it wasn't enough.

Playing all 45 minutes despite a stomach ailment wasn't enough.

Nor was it enough that he fought through a cramp in his left calf that kept him from elevating to his usual heights as Mario Chalmers drained the 3-pointer that forced overtime.

Scoring 18 points, including 10 straight down the stretch, wasn't enough. Nor were the eight assists and six rebounds Rose produced.

Making one of two free throws with 10.8 seconds to play in regulation wasn't enough to keep the Tigers from blowing a nine-point lead in the final two minutes at the rollicking Alamodome.

It didn't help that Chris Douglas-Roberts missed three free throws, including the front end of a one-and-one, in the final 75 seconds of regulation.

"It wasn't the free throws," Rose would insist later. "It was the plays before the free throws."

All of that may have been enough to convince Pat Riley — introduced at halftime as part of this year's Hall of Fame class — to draft him for the Heat this June, but it wasn't enough to give Memphis its first NCAA basketball crown.

For just the 14th time in his past five seasons, a span covering 172 games, Rose had tasted bitter defeat.

He won Illinois state titles his last two years at Chicago's Simeon High, and when asked before this Final Four to name his most painful defeat, he did not hesitate. It was a state quarterfinal playoff loss his sophomore year to a team led by future North Carolina guard Bobby Frasor. Simeon was up 13 points late when Rose fouled out.

"Man, it was the worst feeling of my life," Rose said. "I hate losing."

No doubt that long-ago loss has been replaced in his aching heart.

And so now Rose waited in a too-bright hallway, preparing to head to the interview room. Jackson, who bonded with the Tigers last week in conjunction with the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King's assassination, bent down and whispered words of consolation.

"Champions fall down sometimes, but they get up again and they play through their wounds," Jackson told him. "And so as you talk to the nation, look like a champion who lost the game. Don't look like a freshman, crying and looking pitiful. It hurts, but you get your stars from your scars. It's a part of becoming what you will become."

Great pros don't always end their amateur careers on the victory stand.

Just ask Michael Jordan, who was smothered by Indiana's Dan Dakich in a regional semifinal upset of North Carolina in 1984.

Or Hakeem Olajuwon, who was frozen as Lorenzo Charles dunked the airball that beat Houston in the 1983 NCAA final.

Or Patrick Ewing, whose final act with Georgetown was a stunning upset loss to Villanova in the '85 final.

Olajuwon and Ewing joined Riley at Monday's final as part of the Hall of Fame class, and while no one is quite ready to punch Rose's ticket to Springfield, his performance in defeat did nothing to detract from those predictions of future greatness.

"Derrick showed his will to win," teammate Robert Dozier said. "He made four big baskets in a row down the stretch to give us that nine-point lead, but we couldn't hold on."

That's the flip side of One Shining Moment. Nobody has penned a theme song for it, but it exists just the same.

Monday night, it was the Tigers' turn to experience their version of One Crushing Moment. No one was hurting more than Rose, the kid who so despises losing he used to cry after AAU games.

"Even as a freshman, Derrick is not making excuses," said Jackson, who spoke by phone to Rose's mother earlier in the day. "He's hurt and he's not bitter. Like any 19-year-old kid, his heart is tender. It's been bruised. But he has an internal strength and character and he'll fight through it."

Jackson paused and gave a small smile. One of Rose's older brothers stood a few feet away, transfixed.

"He'll even learn from this," Jackson said. "The ground is no place for a champion."

Even the uncrowned.

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