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Originally published Wednesday, November 21, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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Sonics eye Memphis freshman

On nights like this, you wonder what all of the fuss surrounding Derrick Rose is about. The 6-foot-3 freshman point guard, considered perhaps...

Seattle Times staff reporter

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — On nights like this, you wonder what all of the fuss surrounding Derrick Rose is about.

The 6-foot-3 freshman point guard, considered perhaps the best men's college basketball player in the country, finished with five assists and four points as the Memphis Tigers strolled to an 84-63 victory against Arkansas State at FedEx Forum on Tuesday night.

With a handful of NBA personnel in attendance, including Sonics general manager Sam Presti, Rose didn't show his amazing athleticism that's on display in a YouTube highlight clip, which is drawing raves from streetballers and NBA players.

He didn't dominate, instead taking a backseat to sophomore guard Willie Kemp, who led the Tigers with 22 points, and junior wing Chris Douglas-Roberts, who added 16.

If there's a negative to Rose's game, it's his mechanical jump shot and a quiet, low-key demeanor, which can be construed as nonchalance when he's on the floor.

"Sometimes he's too unselfish," said Rod Strickland, a 17-year NBA veteran who is in his second season as Memphis' director of student-athlete development. "I try to tell him to stay in attack mode. Once he's in attack mode, he'll make the pass or he'll make the play.

"A night like tonight is a great example. I think he gave them [Arkansas State] a break. I don't think he really went like he could have went tonight. But that's a freshman. And he's not like an O.J. Mayo who's coming out to score all the time. If we're winning, he'll probably be satisfied with just running the offense."

Rose draws frequent comparisons to Mayo, the flamboyant USC freshman who is likely to be selected among the top five picks in next year's NBA draft. They are the best point guards in college basketball, but they're also polar opposites.

Mayo is a phenomenal scorer and a combo-guard in the mode of Chicago's Ben Gordon. Rose, however, is a classic pass-first point guard.

"He's an old-school guard," Strickland said. "He likes to pass more than shoot, but in this system that's kind of uptempo, kind of aggressive and attacks, he gets to shoot more than he might like. I see him as one of the throwback playmakers. I think he has the capabilities of being along the Jason Kidd-type of playmakers. He's quick, strong. He can pass and rebound. He's a triple-double waiting to happen. He's capable of that.

"You look at his stats, he's probably averaging 5 or 6 rebounds. The assists are down because of the way we play. But you put him in a system for 48 minutes and playing 34 minutes a game, I see him putting up numbers."

Before Tuesday, Rose hadn't scored fewer than 17 points in the previous four games and was averaging 19.8 points and 2.3 assists and 5.5 rebounds.

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On this night, the highlights were sparse. Aside from a quick burst of speed on a layup in which he outran everyone the length of the court in the first half, Rose never stood out.

He left the locker room before it was opened to the media. Rose prefers his older brother Reggie do most of the talking for him.

Reggie, 32, kept Derrick, 19, out of trouble while he grew up in one of Chicago's toughest neighborhoods. Reggie, who runs a nonprofit organization in Chicago and is the director of a Nike AAU team, moved to Memphis, where he never misses a game.

He took over the fatherly duties and kept the recruiters, street agents and AAU coaches away from the family. Now he safeguards Derrick from the NBA.

"I'm telling him to just have fun and enjoy your college life," said Reggie who played four years of basketball at Idaho. "That decision is coming whenever it is, but it's not today. He could play four years or he could play one."

Kevin Durant, the consensus NCAA Player of the Year last season, had a similar decision and left Texas after one year.

"It was a big distraction," he said. "My teammates thought about it a lot. I tried not to bring it into the team setting, but you can't stop things like that.

"I'd tell anybody who was going through it to not to think about it too much because that can wear on you mentally. Just to have fun because you never know what can happen the next day. Cherish what you have right now. I just tell people to keep their faith in God and keep their heads up and everything is going to be all right."

In the Sonics' perfect world, Rose could take his game to Seattle next season, where he'd blossom into an All-Star over the next decade.

At the start of a massive rebuilding project, the Sonics (2-10) appear to be headed toward a historically awful season and a lottery pick. They've locked up a future scoring sensation in Durant and a do-everything swingman in Jeff Green, who was taken fifth in last year's draft.

Now all they need is a young playmaking guard and defensive-minded center.

Rose could answer one of those questions.

"Seattle Sonics, huh?" Reggie said. "I can't speak on that. I know this, wherever he plays, he's going to make that team better."

The Boston Celtics got in trouble for dreaming like this.

The Celtics put all of their eggs in Durant's basket only to fall victim to the wrath of the draft-lottery gods, who cursed them with the No. 5 pick when they had the NBA's second-worst record and the best odds at landing the No. 2 pick.

Still, Rose has the type of potential that makes one dream seven months before the draft.

"He's special," Strickland said.

Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or pallen@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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