By Kevin Armstrong, SI.com
NEW YORK -- As the bright lights dimmed at Madison Square Garden on Sunday and the maintenance crew dissembled the hardwood floor, Simeon (Chicago) guard Derrick Rose sat on a folding table, having his ankle tape unwrapped by a trainer while he dissected his performance in Simeon's 53-51 loss to Rice (Harlem, N.Y.) in the Nike Super Six Classic.
"I learned a lot with this trip," said Rose, who finished with 22 points after being held scoreless in the first quarter. "I see now I have to make an impact on the game earlier and let my teammates feed off me. I needed to push and get involved from the start."
It was a rough afternoon at the Garden for Rose, who put up an air ball on his first shot, and then was called for a charge a few possessions later. He did not wilt, though, choosing instead to work for his shots and thread his way though the Rice defense that sent three guards swarming at him.
"Supposedly he was the best guard in the nation coming in," says Rice's sophomore guard Lamont Jones, who already has Louisville as his front runner with Seton Hall, Virginia and Duke also in the mix. "We wanted to make a statement of our own and battle him."
That they did, taking their lineup with only one senior in the rotation and making a splash on the national stage, just a train ride from their school in Harlem.
"Derrick is a great player, the No. 1 guard we've seen this year," Rice coach Maurice Hicks says of the Memphis-bound Rose. "I think our guys were ready for this between our usual grind through the Catholic league schedule in New York plus the game against Norcross (Ga.) over Christmas when we were up five with two minutes left and we let it get away."
Rice and Hicks had only seen snippets of Rose before Sunday. There were no tape exchanges from previous opponents like at the college level, but the reputation of Rose preceded him to the Big Apple. Having been at the same summer events and watching short Webcasts of a few Simeon games, though, the Raiders were ready for an athletic guard who could handle the ball as well as the pressure with a calm demeanor.
"What we saw on those grainy Webcasts and what we saw today in full color was what we expected," Hicks said. "He's gonna be a good one."
With 1:34 left in the fourth quarter, Rose rebounded a missed shot, powered up underneath and showed his ability to take a hit, by making the layup and then completing the three-point play at the foul line to give Simeon its first lead, 47-46, since the game's first basket.
"Everybody says we are young -- in those games, we showed we were young," Jones said. "We learned to stay focused and getting nervous doesn't help."
And while Rice's growth and maturity -- and the three-point shooting by junior Chris Fouch -- showed that the Raiders deserve higher recognition in the national polls, the performance by Rose in Simeon's second-half comeback displayed why Memphis coach John Calipari was in New York after beating Southern Miss Saturday night in Hattiesburg, Miss.
Calipari flew back with the Tigers to Memphis on Saturday night, then got on a plane Sunday morning for New York, which was forced to land in Baltimore because of fog in New York. So Calipari got in a car and drove the remainder of the trip with his assistant coaches to see Rose, who signed his letter of intent in November.
"There are two things that are important about Derrick right now: he's physically gifted and he has the skill sets with ball handling that allow him to be exceptional," said Calipari, standing in the Garden hallway outside Simeon's locker room. "He's also the nicest great player I've come across. He doesn't act like some of these guys who think they can poop ice cream."
A win would have capped a good trip, but Rice sprinkled in a tough pressing defense and took advantage of Simeon's early zone defense, leaving Rose and company to play from behind the entire game until the fourth quarter. Though influential in the comeback with his shots over and through multiple defenders, Rose was not able to break free from Rice junior point guard Kemba Walker, who served as a thorn in Rose's side.
"I wish that we had won but we have to focus on the state title as our goal right now," said Rose, who will now prepare for the nation's top-ranked team, Oak Hill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.) at the University of Illinois-Chicago's Pavillion on Thursday. The game will be broadcast on ESPN. "I wish this type of atmosphere was what we had all the time. Chicago doesn't support its players like New York does."
And it was the traditional New York power that left the lasting impression.
"We knew that he couldn't beat us by himself," Jones said. "He is athletic and can shoot, but he didn't get off the way he wanted to. We wouldn't let him. If he did, the result might have been different."
With guard Erving Walker (18 points) continuing his hot shooting and forward Ryan Pearson bodying up underneath, Christ the King bounced back from a loss earlier in the week to Holy Cross (Queens, N.Y.) by beating Wings Academy, 74-63, in the day's opening game.
Sitting beneath one basket was Louisville coach Rick Pitino, who was flanked by assistant coach Steve Masiello. Both were within whispering distance of American Christian junior guard Tyreke Evans, who scored 33 points in his team's 110-91 win over South Kent Prep (Conn.). "He still needs to work on decision making," said American Christian head coach Tony Bergeron of Evans. "Nine games ago we inserted him at the point and we are 9-0 since that point."
Also in the stands were Florida assistant Lewis Preston, Virginia assistant Bill Courtney, Drexel head coach Bruiser Flint, and Seton Hall assistant coach Dermon Player.