This article appears in the January/February 2006 edition of SchoolSports magazine.
Simeon junior point guard Derrick Rose has been hearing “it” for quite some time. “It” is the dreaded hype label, and it’s been following Rose since he was in the seventh grade.
Back then, people were already talking about him as Chicago’s next big hoop phenom. Robert Smith, then an assistant coach at Simeon under Robert Hambric, decided to go watch the kid play and came away believing the hype was justified.
“He was doing things that a normal seventh-grader couldn’t do and that some juniors and seniors in high school couldn’t do,” says Smith, who’s now in his second year as head coach at Simeon.
Fast forward to today and Rose has become not only one of Chicago’s top ballers, but one of the best in the country as well. In fact, the 6-foot-3, 180-pound playmaker is rated the nation’s No. 7 hoop recruit in the Class of 2007 by SchoolSports.com.
Yet Rose’s success on the court has led to constant individual attention off it and has continued the hype machine. And that’s something he’d like to avoid more than an 0-for-10 night from the field.
It seems cliché to say a superstar athlete is really a humble, team-first player, but it’s the truth in Rose’s case. Smith found that out first-hand in 2004 when Simeon was in the Class AA state tournament. The Wolverines were looking to bring Rose up to the varsity, but Rose, sensing the media attention that would come his way, actually turned down the invitation.
“We had a chance to bring him up, but he didn’t want to because he didn’t want to overshadow the kids that worked hard to get us downstate,” says Smith. “He didn’t want the media to focus on him. It’s those type of qualities that makes me think he can make it to the next level.”
The maturity Rose shows off the court carries over to the hardwood, where he’s a true point guard in the classic sense, eschewing the typical one-on-one showmanship of some of today’s 1’s. If the game is on the line, Smith knows he can trust Rose to put the team in the right position and make the right decisions.
“I think he could average 30 points per game, but he likes to get other people involved,” says Smith. “It makes it easier for us because the kids know that he’s going to give it up if they’re open and they’re not envious of him. He’s so more advanced than a lot of kids. He’s like a coach on the floor. Sometimes he comes to the bench and points out stuff that I didn’t even see. That’s rare.”
Luther Topps, who coaches Rose’s AAU team, The Mean Streets Express, has watched Rose since he was in the fifth grade. Like Smith, Topps has witnessed Rose’s transformation into a tremendous floor general.
“He’s a freak of nature,” says Topps. “Some kids have to go to college to get their skills. This kid has it now. He can shoot. You can be open just for a split second and he’ll find you. He just makes people around him better. If they didn’t change the rule, he’d be going straight to the NBA. He’s better than some of the players in the league right now.”
Rose’s skills were on full display last season when he averaged 16 points, seven assists, five rebounds and three steals per game as a sophomore to lead Simeon to the St. Xavier University sectional final, where the Wolverines lost to Brother Rice, 77-76, in double overtime.
The hype surrounding Rose grew even stronger after last year’s performance, and Simeon is now one of the favorites to win the Class AA state crown this season. With a core that includes Rose, junior Tim Flowers, senior Randal Hampton and junior Jelani Poston, the Wolverines are in the spotlight. But you wouldn’t know it by how Rose carries himself.
Instead of eating up the attention, what Rose enjoys most is hanging out, especially with his best friend, Flowers, who he’s gone to school with since kindergarten. When Rose ventures out, he likes to keep it low key and go somewhere like the bowling alley or the movie theater. He takes that same low-key approach when he’s at school, where his lack of a big ego allows him to walk the hallways without much fanfare.
In fact, Rose even politely refused requests to be interviewed for this story. Which is no problem. He lets his game do the talking for him.
“He’s pretty shy,” says Smith. “He’s not going to say much. Sometimes at practices, we don’t even know he’s there. He’s got to get to know you before he starts talking to you. About 60 percent of the people at school don’t know him by face. That’s what I like about him. The way he acts and the way he presents himself helps the team. We have a good shot at winning the state championship because of this attitude.”
Rose has been just as low key when it comes to his college recruitment. His mom, Brenda, and his brother, Reggie, as well as Smith and Topps have made sure Rose doesn’t get inundated with phone calls and have kept the media requests to a minimum so he can stay focused both on the court and in the classroom. Reggie played ball at Idaho, and his experience with the recruiting process has provided his younger brother with a wealth of knowledge.
“It’s hard for [Derrick] to trust people,” says Topps. “His family wants to keep him close, and I don’t blame them. Everyone is trying to get close to him. Reggie can teach his brother the process, and I’m glad he is.”
Rose is wide open when it comes to colleges and wants to make his decision on his own watch. He’s a smart, level-headed kid who wants to take the time to pick the program that will best fit him, not somebody else.
For now, he’s more concerned with living up to expectations this season by leading the Wolverines to the state title. He improved the range on his jumper last summer, which makes him even more dangerous when coupled with his deadly first step.
“This year, he’s really focused,” says Smith. “He said, ‘Coach, most of the people in Chicago, when they get into their junior year with all the hype, they kind of fall off. I’m not going to go through that.’”
Instead, Rose is doing what he does best on the court — living up to the hype.