A Freshman Shall Lead Them

By David Scott - April 06, 2008

SAN ANTONIO -- Memphis's remarkable freshman point guard has a bit of a problem with that very description of him. Not the remarkable part -- although he does shy and blush from praise and adulation.

No, Derrick Rose doesn't like the other part.

"I don't like being called a freshman," he said earlier this week, echoing comments he made after the Little Rock sub-regional. "I just don't like it."

For that reason and many others, his teammates don't call him one.

"We don't look at Derrick as a freshman," said senior Joey Dorsey.

Which makes sense because Rose doesn't look like a freshman. But for the past six weeks especially - and for parts of the entire season - he has looked a whole lot like another first-year wonder who played in the national title game: Carmelo Anthony, who in 2003 got through a Kansas team for his school's first national title.

On Monday night in the Alamodome, Rose will try to deliver Memphis its first-ever title.

Whether or not there are parallels between Anthony, the one-and-done Orange forward, and the soon-to-be-one-and-done Tiger guard remains to be seen. Memphis coach John Calipari, for one, wouldn't mind if it were the case.

"I hope so," said Calipari. "You know what? It's funny, we played that (Anthony) team early in the season that year in Carmelo's first game."

Memphis won that game but Anthony, the 6-8, 200-pound forward, dropped 29 points and gave the first inkling that he would be as good as en route to National Player of the Year honors.

"This is a veteran team, a driven team and Derrick's made us better," said Calipari. "Chris Douglas-Roberts, Antonio Anderson and Joey Dorsey aren't the same players they were a year ago; they're way better. I don't know if that was the same case with (that Syracuse) team."

In fact, it wasn't. Syracuse was younger and probably had less cumulative talent than the 2007-087 Tigers (but it did have two surefire pros in Hakim Warrick and Anthony). Memphis's can't miss NBA-level guys are the duo of Rose and Douglas-Roberts. But the Memphis supporting cast is both deeper and older that the Orange's was that season.

But the Rose-Anthony similarities are both deep and significant in this era of Fab Freshmen leading their teams to great heights. As much as veterans are needed, recent Final Fours have been peppered with precocious freshman.

"I remember that Syracuse team and 'Melo was just like Derrick coming in and getting some guidance from the veterans on that team (like Kueth Duany and Warrick)," said Dorsey, who knows Anthony from growing up and playing AAU ball in Baltimore. "It's great as a freshman to be able to come and get coached along by some veteran guys. Derrick wasn't really comfortable on the court at the beginning of the season but once he found his role how to play the style of offense we do, he handled it really well."

While Anthony's explosion on the scene in his lone collegiate season was more dramatic, both players surged in the final weeks of their frosh campaigns. In fact, both scored career highs in their teams' Elite Eight wins (Rose with 27 vs. Michigant State and Anthony with 33 vs. Texas). They both also sagged during the start of conference play but were re-energized for their team's stretch drives. While Anthony was leaned on more to power the Orange, Rose has been able to ease into his role a bit more with fellow All-American Douglas-Roberts and other Tiger scorers able to share the load.

Since Memphis's late-Feburary loss vs. Tennessee though, where Rose had 23 points and 5 assists, he has not had a game where he hasn't either scored 17 or more points or had at least four assists (his lone clunker was a four point, four assist game against Tulsa in the C-USA title game when he played just 24 minutes as Memphis rolled to its third straight league title.

It's not a stretch to say that Memphis would not have seen April play without their Rose.

"I never would have been able to handle things the way he has," said Memphis junior Antonio Anderson. "He handled it all extremely well. He never talks about himself. He's very unselfish and you can't teach that. That's just how he is naturally."

Maybe Rose is right, especially after 39 games, that he's not a freshman and shouldn't be called one.

"I'm not sure I could have handled what he's handling now even as a senior in college basketball," said Memphis assistant Derek Kellogg, who was a pretty good point guard himself for Calipari at UMass. "I mean there's a ton of things he has to deal with from media wanting to speak with him to fans wanting an autograph. For a kid his age (19), he has handled it absolutely unbelievable and to really step up and play the best basketball of his life on the biggest stage has been really a pleasure to watch."

"I think what I bring to this team now is just a little bit of control, a little balance," said Rose earlier in the tournament.

What he may also bring is what Anthony brought for his own coach, Jim Boeheim, and that was vindication for being one of the "best who never." If Rose were able to help guide the Tigers over the Jayhawks, perhaps some of the recent (misguided) insinuations that Calipari can only recruit but not coach will disappear into San Antonio's humid air.

People would also not be able to call Rose a freshman any more, much to his delight. Instead, they would need to call him "Champion," followed in a couple of months by another moniker that Anthony also had: Top 3 NBA Draft pick.

Posted by David Scott at 05:40 PM on April 06, 2008

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