Derrick Rose : : : Flower Power

September 18, 2008 | By Anne Stein

You can thank a peach tree in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood for Derrick Rose’s dexterity with both hands. At age 8 or 9, as family lore goes, the future Bulls point guard was climbing the big flowering tree in his family’s backyard and took a tumble. Unaware that he’d just broken his arm, Rose dusted himself off, grabbed a basketball and joined his brothers and friends down the street at Murray Park to play hoops.

When one of his brothers smacked his hand during the game and Derrick couldn’t feel a thing, it dawned on him that maybe the injury needed some attention. His arm was put in a cast, but that didn’t put a damper on Derrick’s summer schedule; instead he spent hours learning to dribble and shoot left-handed, a skill he puts to very good use today.

Born October 4, 1988, Derrick Martell Rose is the youngest of four boys: Dwayne (now 34), Reggie (32) and Allan (27). A large baby, he was nicknamed ‘Winnie the Pooh’ by his grandmother for his size and skin color at the time; by age two, he was simply called ‘Pooh,’ which is what family and close friends still call him today.

The four boys were raised in a close-knit, extended family by Mom, Brenda Rose, who instilled pride, achievement and success in each of her sons, despite the rough South Side neighborhood they all grew up in.

“There were other people in the neighborhood who wanted their kids to be something, so we watched out for each other. You knew and they knew what your children were doing,” explains Brenda.

She often took her boys to see other neighborhoods and to Chicago’s lakefront and museums, to expose them to the arts, other people and other ways of life. “Kids see stuff that goes on in the street, and you tell them, ‘you don’t want to be like that – you want more out of life.’”

Her children not only took her words to heart, the three oldest formed a protective wall around their baby brother, keeping him focused on school and basketball and steering him away from the crime and gangs outside their front door.

“The biggest support system I have is my family,” says the 6’3”, 190-pound Derrick today. “My mother helped me a lot because I used to go somewhere in the neighborhood, and she’d call 10 minutes later to check up – and I used to hate it. But she was being a caring mother, and I thank her for that.”

The brothers still keep close track of each other and Derrick. “My whole family puts their hands around me so I don’t get sidetracked,” he says.

Everyone in the family had basketball talent. The three oldest boys played at Hubbard High School, and by age two, says Brenda, Derrick would sit on a basketball in the family’s basement and hang out with his brothers’ teammates, no doubt soaking up basketball tips and knowledge.

By age four, says Brenda, Pooh could dribble. “The team would come over and Derrick would get in the middle and you’d see a ball bouncing, and that’d be him,” she recalls with a laugh.

His first organized game was at Randolph Magnet School in fourth grade. “He had the ball a lot and he could shoot,” says Brenda. His team won and, later, Derrick led them to a city championship. By seventh grade, the family knew his basketball talent was special.

“We were watching TV at my mom’s house, and Derrick put a tape in,” recalls Reggie, who later organized an AAU team around his little brother. “Some guy ran down the court in a blur and threw the ball up. And Derrick said, ‘You see, you see!!’

“We said, ‘that’s not you.’” The brothers rewound the tape and slowed it down; sure enough – it was baby brother catching an alley-oop and slamming it home.

Though he was (and still is) a ferocious competitor on the court, the quiet youngster was always sweet and humble off, two traits he’s retained to this day. It’s due to spending so much time with older relatives, insists Brenda. “Until Derrick came along, there hadn’t been a baby born in the family for a while, so everybody just took him,” she says. “He learned how to respect older people.”

His grandmother and great uncle, who was ill, lived with the family, and Derrick became his uncle’s good buddy and caretaker. At age five, Derrick would often watch TV and fetch meals for him. The two would also sneak loads of candy into the house (reinforcing the Pooh nickname) and hide it from Mom.

By the time Derrick was eight, the first of his five nieces and nephews were born, and Derrick – who still loves hanging out with the family – spent hours with the new babies. “People in the neighborhood used to tell us all the time that they never saw brothers hang out as much as we did,” says oldest brother Dwayne. “For example, If you saw me, you’d always see Allan.”

And Derrick, says Dwayne, has also been a special kid. “Even before basketball, there were no problems with Derrick—ever. When he’d come over to my house, I’d ask him to take the garbage out and he’d do it. Then he’d come over the next time and do that and other things without ever being asked. Then he’d ask if there was anything else I needed. With basketball he’s even more special. He’s one of the best baby brothers you could ask for.”

Derrick wasn’t just born with talent, however; he worked to perfect it. “When he misses a shot he tends to beat himself up because he really wants to be perfect,” says Reggie.

By Derrick’s sophomore year in high school, his natural talent and the hours he spent practicing paid off, and he returned from a St. Louis Nike camp ranked the number one high school player in the country. Despite all the accolades, the humble, quiet kid remained, well, humble and quiet.

“He’s just not the type of person who wants to shine over anyone,” says Reggie’s wife, Shanda. “He’s always the one who steps back and lets everyone else get the limelight. He’s been like that all his life.”

In fact, it took nearly a month for Derrick to stop calling his current agent, former Chicago Bulls guard B.J. Armstrong “Sir.”

“He’s very polite,” explains Armstrong with a smile. “He’s very conscientious. That’s just who he is, and he learned it from his family and his coaches.” And on the floor? “He’s a very tough kid who loves to compete.”

But the always-humble Rose insists he doesn’t always live up to what he’s trying to be. “I try not to mistreat people because God’s always looking,” he explains. “But sometimes I slip and forget – I’m not perfect, I’ll say that.”

Maybe not perfect, but he sure strives for it, showing leadership and generosity on a regular basis. After helping lead his Simeon Career Academy high school team to the Illinois Class AA State Championship in 2006, he led his team to a 33-2 record and their second straight state title the following year, and was named 2007 Illinois Mr. Basketball. Yet in that second championship game, he scored just two points, often passing the ball to teammates he’d spent years playing with.

Though Rose won’t say he was being generous, Brenda says he played that way for a reason: Derrick had been in the limelight for so long that he felt it was time for others to share in it.

“He decided that on his own,” she says. “Those were his friends, not just teammates.”

His successful high school career in Chicago led to several scholarship offers, which Derrick narrowed down to Illinois and Memphis. But he wanted family with him for the ride.

“He asked me if he chose Memphis, would we move with him,” says Reggie. “I’m like, hold on, Derrick, let me talk to my wife. Shanda (who deserves both wife and sister-in-law of the year awards) agreed to it, so we moved there.”

In Memphis, Reggie and Shanda lived only 20 minutes away from Derrick – “to give him space and let him grow up to be a young man” – but they were close enough for him to come over on weekends for home-cooked meals or to stop by for advice.

It took just a short time and a long chat last season with Memphis Head Coach John Calipari for Derrick to learn that he had to lead his team. It’s a job he did well in his one and only year there, though being Derrick he actually asked teammates if they minded if he started taking a few more shots. He led Memphis to the 2008 NCAA Championship game vs. Kansas, where he scored 18 points, grabbed six rebounds and handed out eight assists in a heartbreaking, overtime loss.

The Bulls are hoping he’ll lead his new team to similar heights, though they’ll give the 19-year-old time to reach that goal.

“I have all the faith in the world after getting to know Derrick,” says Bulls Head Coach Vinny Del Negro. “He’s got a lot of confidence in his ability, and he’s going to work hard. And, when he’s ready, we’ll put him out there, and he’ll run the show.”

“This pick is about adding a player who has unique ability and, in my opinion, who hasn’t touched the surface of what he’s going to be,” says Bulls General Manager John Paxson. “I think Derrick will grow into his role, and for our future he’s simply a terrific pick.”

And just as they’ve been so far, Derrick’s family and close friends will be right by his side. He and his best friend from high school will share a home near the Bulls practice facility in Deerfield, and Reggie and his wife are moving back home from Memphis and will also stay nearby.

In fact, Mom is planning to move up north from Englewood to lend support. “Everybody will be here for him,” says brother Dwayne. “It’s nothing new for us – we’ve always taken care of him and watched over him.”

As for fans and teammates, Dwayne promises they’ll enjoy watching this Rose bloom. “Fans are getting a good person, a really great individual. And his teammates are getting a good teammate. He loves the city, and I think the city will love him back.”