Local makes a break for NBA

By Eli Kaberon

Derrick Rose has already defied the odds.

A year ago, the 6-foot, 3-inch guard was one of a small handful of Chicago high school basketball players to earn a college scholarship. Of that handful­-about 980 high school players per year in the city with 15 seniors receiving a free ride-only a tiny portion end up playing in the NBA.

Yet 20-year-old Rose has made it. The 2006 alumnus of Simeon Career Academy High School, 8147 S. Vincennes Ave., is now a rookie guard for the Chicago Bulls. After his graduation from Simeon, Rose spent a year at the University of Memphis before being the first player chosen in the 2008 NBA draft. Several basketball columnists expected he’s going to play a big role for the Bulls this season, which tips off on Oct. 28. Rose will face tremendous pressure by being both an important player for a professional basketball team and also a hometown hero.

Ricky O’Donnell, a Columbia journalism major and the editor of the Chicago-focused sports blog TremendousUpsidePotential.com, said he thinks Rose will be comfortable playing for the Bulls because the city’s fans have already accepted him.

“Derrick’s already a star in Chicago because people follow high school basketball so closely in this city, and everybody [who] follows the sport already knows who he is,” O’Donnell said. “I almost think he’s under more pressure not to do something stupid off the court. Everyone realizes he’s not going to be a star right away; it usually takes players a season or even a year-and-a-half to develop.”

Rose might face a few challenges by being a young professional athlete and by the longer NBA season (82 games, compared to about 35-40 in high school and college).

His biggest adjustment may be in not winning nearly every game he plays. During the 2007-08 season, the Bulls went 33-49, which put them in the second-to-last place in the NBA’s Central Division. By comparison, over the past three years, Rose’s high school and college teams have gone a combined 104-8. During his last two high school seasons, Rose won more than 89 percent of his games and led Simeon to the state championship each year. During his year at Memphis, the college won 38 of their 40 games and came very close to winning the NCAA National Championship. Most NBA experts predict the Bulls, who also made a coaching change by hiring former NBA player Vinny Del Negro, to be close to a .500 team in 2008-09.

“It will be all about patience, because it’s not going to be easy right away,” said Tony Wisdom, a Columbia marketing major and longtime Bulls fan. “Getting used to the speed and quickness of the game will take some time for Derrick, and I don’t expect greatness out of him right away.”

Playing in front of his hometown crowd will put Rose in unique company. The 30 NBA franchises draft players from all over the world, some hailing from American colleges, others from international countries. Many of the sport’s biggest stars are currently playing in cities miles from their hometown, such as the Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant (from Philadelphia), Boston Celtics forward Paul Pierce (Los Angeles) and Houston Rockets center Yao Ming (China). On the Bulls, Rose will play with teammates including Andres

Nocioni (from Argentina), Thabo Sefelosha (Switzerland) and Luol Deng (born in Sudan, moved to Egypt as a child, raised in London, went to high school in New Jersey and college in North Carolina).

At Foot Locker, 219 S. State St., Rose has already become one of the city’s most popular athletes. Bulls shirts sporting his name and his jersey number are available in red, white and black. The display is

located in the front of the store, so all the customers passing by on the sidewalk can look in and see. Tiffany Hammel, a saleswoman at Foot Locker, said Rose merchandise is doing well, even though the rookie has yet to play in his first professional game.

“The T-shirts are selling well, and at Kids Foot Locker, they’re selling lots of his jerseys,” Hammel said. “Because he’s local and he wears #1, it’s a hot item. We think the sales will pick up as the season continues, especially if the Bulls can win.”

Two years ago, Derrick Rose was just a player in the Chicago Public League, playing for a school on the South Side. Now the 20-year-old is playing for his hometown team and has his name on shirts all over the city. What’s next? Bulls fans can’t wait to find out.

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