When I saw Simeon's Derrick Rose play in the Class AA finals as a junior, my first reaction was he was being overhyped by the media and Public League publicity hounds who always believe the best players and teams are produced in the city.
My argument? If you are one of the top five players in the country, as Rose was being projected to be, how can you score only nine points in the state championship game, in the most important game of your life, against a team you are supposed to dominate? Isn't this the time when a truly great player steps up and takes charge?
Well, his hype machine responded, he did just that. He took the ball and drove the length of the court and made the game-winning shot in overtime to beat Peoria Richwoods 31-29. No, that's not a misprint, 31-29.
Yes, Rose made the winning shot. But, I argued, the game should never have come to that if he was the dominant player he is supposed to be. Overtime with Peoria Richwoods? Can you imagine, I said, if heavily favored Simeon had lost, would the city ever overcome the embarrassment? Would it be Boise State beating Oklahoma or Appalachian State beating Michigan or Navy beating Notre Dame?
But I have become enlightened. Or, rather, I choose to believe that Derrick Rose became enlightened. He realized--credit his new coach, Memphis' John Calipari, for delivering the message loud and clear--that he has to be the dominant player on the floor, no plays off, no checking out the cheerleaders or counting the crowd or posing for the television camera.
He showed that kind of serious attitude as a senior as Simeon dominated the Class AA tournament. And he hasn't blinked an eye since he put on a Memphis uniform, despite all the high-fiving by college basketball's top cheerleader, Dick Vitale. Good for him.
Is he one of the top five players ever to come out of the Public League? In a class with Cazzie Russell, George Wilson, Kevin Garnett and Mark Aguirre? Better than Jamie Brandon, Marcus Liberty, Nick Anderson, Rickey Green, Tommy Hawkins, Paxton Lumpkin, Rich Bradshaw, Eddie Johnson, Ronnie Fields, Russell Cross, Billy Harris, Deon Thomas and Rashard Griffith?
Does he rate a spot on Illinois' all-time top five with Garnett, Wilson, Russell and Isiah Thomas? Yes. Move over, Quinn Buckner. Make room for Derrick Rose.