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The Well-Guarded Guard
George Dohrmann
November 27, 2006
It took three very tough and determined brothers to foster the talents of a young Derrick Rose and protect him from a miasma of Chicago gangs, dealers, hangers-on and, perhaps scariest of all, agents
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November 27, 2006

The Well-guarded Guard

It took three very tough and determined brothers to foster the talents of a young Derrick Rose and protect him from a miasma of Chicago gangs, dealers, hangers-on and, perhaps scariest of all, agents

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Chicago has a history of devouring its young basketball stars. Ben Wilson was the No. 1--ranked high school senior in the country in 1984--" Magic Johnson, but with a jump shot," said former NBA standout Nick Anderson--but just before his final season Wilson was shot and killed while on his school lunch break. Ronnie Fields was a victim by different means. Illinois's Mr. Basketball in 1996 was a year behind Kevin Garnett at Farragut Academy and with his 40-inch vertical leap seemed destined to meet Garnett in the NBA. But street agents and other poachers moved in, and he made one bad decision after another until his career finally dwindled away in basketball's minor leagues.

Derrick Rose, who has heard the cautionary tales of Wilson, Fields and some of Chicago's other lost hoops prodigies, could easily have fallen too. Derrick was brought up in a single-parent home in one of the worst neighborhoods in Chicago, and agents and their middlemen were chasing him before he was in high school. Yet Derrick is thriving, a top five player in the class of 2007, a 6'3" guard who might be the best player to come out of Chicago in a decade.

He is the leader of the Simeon Career Academy basketball team, which is a defending state champion and seventh in SI's preseason national rankings (page 67). So why did Derrick blossom when so many others withered?

The answer was standing in the back of the room a few weeks ago when Derrick announced his decision to play next season for the University of Memphis. Derrick's older brothers--Dwayne, Reggie and Allan--built a wall around him the day they realized he had a special talent. They took control of every facet of his life, monitoring his friends, his schoolwork, even his coaches, in a manner that some find extreme. They have been accused of taking over the basketball program at Simeon and, even worse, of "pimping" him for their own gain. Their response to such criticism is a shrug. They know that when your brother is a basketball prodigy on Chicago's South Side, you can't trust the village to raise him. Not when the village is a big part of the problem. "People haven't liked some of what we've done," says Reggie, "but when it's your brother, you don't care what other people think."

The Englewood section of Chicago has a violent past and a violent present. In the 19th century it was home to serial killer H.H. Holmes, whose exploits were chronicled in Erik Larson's best seller The Devil in the White City. In 1998 the neighborhood made national headlines when two seven- and eight-year-old boys were falsely charged with murdering an 11-year-old girl. In 2003, after a seven-year-old girl was shot, a teacher at Englewood High had his students write letters to a Chicago Sun-Times columnist. "I have seen people get shot, stabbed and beat to death right before my eyes," wrote a student named Patrice. Another, Shanika, wrote, "The bad boys and girls are taking over."

A single mother raising children in Englewood has to contend with gangs, gutted schools and overwhelming poverty. Yet Brenda Rose reared her first three sons there without serious incident. All attended college, and each holds a steady job. Dwayne, 34, works at a shipping company; Reggie, 31, is a machine operator for Pepsi; Allan, 26, delivers computers. "My mom would walk down the street and drag us home if she heard we were getting into trouble," Dwayne says. "Even the drug dealers, when they saw her coming, would stop dealing and tell her where we were."

Yet Brenda's wisest bit of parenting might have come later, when strangers began calling the house, expressing interest in her youngest son, Derrick. When Brenda looked at her son, she saw a child, but those who knew basketball saw a rare package of abilities. With a basketball in his hands, Derrick could be explosive and efficient at the same time, blowing past defenders but never forcing the action. "His main asset is his strength," says Chris Monter, an NBA draft analyst. "He has the quickness and the leaping ability you want in a guard, but he really knows how to overpower other guards. A lot of people think he is a one and done player." In other words, he'll be in the NBA following his freshman year of college ball.

After Simeon's Class AA state finals victory last season, people marveled at how Derrick dominated the game--which he did--but few realized that he had scored only nine points. "He doesn't have to score to take over a game," Reggie says.

At a Las Vegas tournament in July, Derrick had 21 points, 14 rebounds and 12 assists in a matchup with O.J. Mayo, widely considered the best guard in the class of '07. But that wasn't Derrick's most impressive performance of the summer. A month earlier, after he'd injured his right (shooting) hand in a fall, he played a game using only his left and still scored 12 points.

Derrick was skilled and tough and, from about eighth grade, a marked kid. Brenda saw the onslaught coming and knew what to do. "His brothers knew basketball, I didn't," she says. "I told them to handle it."

Dwayne, Reggie and Allan quickly formed a fatherly triune that, in their words, "smothered him." One of them always picked him up and dropped him off at school. At least one attended his practices and games. If he needed new shoes or clothes or if he acted out and needed to be punished, more often than not one of the brothers handled it. "We'd do good cop, bad cop on him all the time," Reggie says. They monitored the people he came into contact with, those who called the house or stopped him in the neighborhood for a chat. If he went somewhere when none of the brothers were free, "we'd have someone we trusted go and spy on him," Reggie says.

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