By Roy & Harv Schmidt
We began covering Illinois prep basketball during the mid 1980s. As a result, we did not see Cazzie Russell play, and we were still in high school when Isiah Thomas led St. Joseph to a second place finish in the Class AA state tournament in 1978. We have seen a lot of great players come out of the Chicago Public League over the last 25 years, but none have been better than Simeon's Derrick Rose. If he hadn't proved that previously, he has certainly proven it since his first college game at Memphis.
Before everyone else starts jumping all over this, let us point out that there was never a doubt in our mind that Rose was going to be a great player at both the college and professional level. However, if there was one thing that we may have been guilty of when it comes to Rose it was not having enough overall appreciation for his game--until now.
While Rose was at Simeon, the two biggest knocks on him were that he couldn't shoot and that he wasn't assertive enough, that he didn't look to take over games the way a dominant player and a player of his ability should. At that time those assessments were accurate. And we were not the only ones saying it. Despite all of this, we were also quick to point out that we didn't believe that it was all Rose's doing, and when one now looks at how things have panned out, there is more evidence of that than ever.
Simply put, Simeon head coach Robert Smith runs a system that is not conducive to any one player being a star, no matter how talented he may be. It is kind of similar to when Michael Jordan was at North Carolina and the standard joke was that the only person in the world who could hold Jordan under 20 points a game was Dean Smith. We are not saying that Robert Smith was wrong for the way in which he utlized Rose. After all, Simeon won back to back state championships in Rose's junior and senior years, so who are we to argue with success? The only person who may be kicking himself a bit is ex-Simeon head coach Bob Hambric, who has to wonder what might have been had he decided to play Rose on Simeon's varsity team as a freshman. We are thinking that there is a good possibility that Simeon would have won four consecutive state championships.
The bottom line is that from the first day Rose arrived at Memphis, John Calipari decided to turn Rose loose and give him free reign over his team's offense. As a result, you are now seeing the real Derrick Rose. In Memphis' NCAA tournament victory over Texas in the South regional final in Houston, Rose was unstoppable, as he finished with 21 points, 9 assists and 7 rebounds. He totally dominated Texas' D.J. Augustine. Use whatever superlative you like--Rose took Augustine to the cleaners, had him for lunch--you name it, Rose did it. And now for the ultimate praise--Rose even made a couple of plays in that game that were Jordan-like.
The one thing that impresses us above all else with Rose and makes him a truly special player in our eyes is that nothing seems to phase him. He does not get rattled. Even during the time when the criticism was being thrown Rose's way with respect to him not consistently dominating games when he was at Simeon, Rose never let it bother him. He simply went about his business. That is what great players do. Not only that, but with each game that passes by it seems as if we see something extra from Rose that we haven't seen before, in much the same manner as a Jordan or a Kobe Bryant. That is a rare treat, and when it happens we simply want to sit back and enjoy it.
During our 25 plus years of covering high school basketball in Illinois, we have seen plenty of phenoms from the Chicago Public League come and go. We are still on record as saying that the best high school basketball player we have ever seen come through Chicago is Farragut's Kevin Garnett. However, people make a legitimate argument when they say that Garnett is a transplanted Chicagoan, as he transferred to Farragut from Mauldin, SC just prior to his senior year in high school. Therefore, we are most comfortable in saying that when it comes to pure-bred Chicagoans, Rose is the best player that we have seen come out of the Windy City in the last 25 years. He is everything that Jamie Brandon, Ronnie Fields, and Imari Sawyer wish they could have been.
In all likelihood Rose figures to be a one and done player at Memphis and enter the NBA draft this coming June. We believe that he should be the #1 pick in the draft. Unfortunately, knowing what has been the common trend of NBA general managers who have the top draft pick, Rose will probably go either second or third, with the #1 overall pick being a big man. If that happens, we only have one question for whichever general manager ends up in the #1 position. Can you say Sam Bowie?