For Memphis point guard Derrick Rose, the vision to see the myriad of possibilities, the savvy to sort through them at breakneck speed and the support to carry out his choice of plays has been everything.
We're not merely talking about on the basketball court.
Far from it.
Rose, an unassuming, uncommonly mature freshman with breathtaking skill who has perfectly complemented a veteran and talented Memphis bunch that's in the Final Four for the first time since 1985, grew up in a poor, crime-ridden community in Chicago.
"Just living in Englewood is tough, trust me. It's really tough," he said after leading the Tigers to a showdown against UCLA in one of Saturday's semifinals at San Antonio's Alamodome. "I had friends dropping out in grammar school. I couldn't believe it. Grammar school.
"And I could have followed that path, too."
But he didn't want to disappoint his mother, Brenda Rose, who toiled as a teacher's assistant and often did without to raise four boys on her own. He didn't want to incur the wrath of his older brothers, Dwayne, Reggie and Allan, who have tried to protect their youngest sibling. Rose simply didn't want to do the wrong thing.
"You just have to learn from others' mistakes and don't go the wrong way like they did," said Rose, a third-team All-American. "Just being around my friends (at Murray Park playing basketball) helped me so much because I didn't fall into the traps that were in my neighborhood.''
An unselfish star
As a junior and senior, Rose led Simeon Career Academy to the Illinois Class AA title. No Chicago public school had won consecutive championships before. But in the 2007 title game, he scored just two points. He did everything else, however: eight assists, seven rebounds and keying the defense.
That unselfish nature has always been there.
"He wants to get his teammates involved," said Memphis junior guard Chris Douglas-Roberts, the team's leading scorer and a first-team All-American. "He doesn't have that attitude that, 'I want to be the guy.' ''
Here's a story from his recruitment: Rose wanted the phone number for just one Memphis player — rising-sophomore point guard Willie Kemp, the player he likely would supplant as a starter if he signed. Had Kemp told coach John Calipari that he didn't want him there, Rose said he never would have been offered a scholarship.
"For me, it's not about starting. I didn't think about that one time," Kemp said. "I just told him he could help us out a lot if he came."
"It showed me he's a great teammate and caring," Rose said.
A postscript: Kemp's minutes have dropped by about seven a game or a third of his time as a freshman, but he has stayed late after practice helping Rose work on his 3-point shooting and master the Tigers' frenetic, dribble-drive offense.
"Derrick's one of the great teammates that I've coached," Calipari said, likening Rose's team-first attitude to that of Marcus Camby, who led Calipari's 1996 UMass team to the Final Four. "I asked his mother, 'He's so good, but he's not like the normal great player.' She said, 'I told him growing up, treat people like you want to be treated and you're no different than anybody else. Just remember that, son.' "
A will to win
When Rose, 19, arrived in Memphis during the summer, he spent about four hours a day refining his game. He actually was ordered to ease off when he developed a bit of tendinitis in his knees. He also hit the weight room, adding about 15 pounds of muscle.
"He is so driven and as we played games, you started figuring out, this kid's will to win is unbelievable," Calipari said. "He's got to improve, but he also has the mental toughness and the intelligence to be unique and special. And that sets him apart."
The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Rose has set himself apart during the NCAA Tournament. He's averaged 20.5 points (on 58 percent shooting from the field, 71.4 percent from the line) 5.3 assists and 6.3 rebounds. All are significantly better than his season stats. Oh yeah. He was named the South Region's most outstanding player.
"For somebody to be that young and to play in this tournament like he's playing, I mean, you really don't have any words to explain it," Douglas-Roberts said.
Let's give former Memphis legend Anfernee Hardaway a shot at that one.
"He's like a freak," said Hardaway, who helped lead the Magic to the NBA Finals in 1995. "He's athletic. He can handle the ball. He can shoot. He can do it all. He really can."
What jumped out even more to Michigan State coach Tom Izzo and Texas coach Rick Barnes after their teams had no answer for Rose last weekend in Houston in the South Region was his composure. Rose credits that to his experiences in Englewood.
Appropriately enough, he made a point in his television interview after the Texas win in the region final Sunday afternoon to give a "shout-out for my neighborhood."
"I've been through a lot just growing up like I did, poor and everything," he said. "Just to be here, getting a scholarship, playing college basketball and for my first year to be in the Final Four, it all means a lot."
Brian Landman can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3347.