Does anybody still think John Calipari can't reel in NBA talent coaching in the marginalized Conference USA? One of the most publicized sagas in modern-era recruiting history came to a close this evening, with elite Chicago-area point guard Derrick Rose's announcement that he will take his game to the C-USA in the fall of 2007. Why Memphis, instead of the successful in-state school in desperate need of a talent infusion, or a neighboring program that offers the chance to continue playing with AAU teammate Eric Gordon? Make no mistake about it, the lure of the NBA was written all over this decision.
If the new CBA hadn't included an Age Limit provision, you can be sure that tonight's presser would never have taken place. Rose would have been window shopping at car dealerships and entertaining prospective agents, instead of visiting college campuses. But the age limit changed those plans.
Instead, Rose's brother Reggie shut down contact with the media and Derrick became the hottest interview in the country for just about every enterprising hoops reporter out there.
After losing out on the aforementioned Gordon Jr, Illinois fans restocked their paper bag supply for another two weeks of potential hyperventilation, only to left at the alter yet again. Indiana fans, dreaming of a Meanstreets Express-in March type of run, were forced to wake up.
For Bruce Weber and the fans of his program, just exactly what has changed in the Age Limit era? The results and reaction aren't all that different than the way Arizona fans reacted after elite and desperately needed PF prospect Ndudi Ebi shocked everybody with his last minute decision to enter the draft out of high school.
But for coaches like John Calipari, a lot has changed. While playing in the Conference USA isn't going to draw elite recruits to Memphis, the age limit sure will. Calipari has been landing Derrick Rose types for years, all the way back to Kendrick Perkins, and Amare Stoudemire. He has NBA experience, and NBA connections. He gives young players freedom, and uses an up-tempo style that most young prospects want to be a part of. He hasn't tried to deny the influence of the NBA on his players, he has embraced it. And it is working.
Last season, it gave him Shawne Williams for a season. The year before, Darius Washington picked the Tigers when he could have gone to any power conference program in the country. Calipari gives his players freedom, and lets them run to their heart's content. Sure there has been and will continue to be an enormous amount of roster attrition. Chemistry will be difficult at times, with a Sean Banks type stinker mixed in every now and then with the NBA-focused elite.
But with the advent of the age limit, it is the John Calipari's of the sport that are going to succeed. Rose and Gordon brought a whole new level of dominance to the AAU circuit this summer, and one wouldn't have been able to do it with out the other. Yet when it came time to make a college decision, Rose made an NBA decision. He wanted shots, he wanted to run, and he wanted to play for the coach that he believed could most help him in his 2008 NBA Draft aspirations.
Can you blame him? Illinois fans will certainly point out the development of Brown, Williams and Head, but Weber's storied guards took 4 years (3 in the case of Williams) to make the league. And Rose is going to get there in one. In terms of development, Rose isn't going to advance as far as he would have under in the Big Ten - especially under Weber, but also under Sampson. But under Calipari, he gets all the shots and fanfare he could ever ask for, and he gets to have fun doing it - flying up and down the court, dunking on mid-major caliber players for half the season.
Rose-type decisions are happening on a regular basis these days. Gordon supposedly committed to Weber in the first place because he thought Mike Davis wouldn't develop him as well. Kevin Durant, clearly NBA bound in a pre-age limit era, likely would have ended up at North Carolina if not for the immediate go-to role available under Rick Barnes at Texas. Does the state of Ohio suddenly investigate Bill Walker's academic status and declare him a 2006 senior if the age limit isn't a factor?
The reality is that for coaches ignoring the lure of the NBA, the age limit changes almost nothing. The elite prospects are still going to break your heart in the end. For coaches like John Calipari, who are willing to admit that they are merely professors teaching NBA 101, the age limit is a marvelous development. The age limit is only the first step in the process of improving the way basketball players are developed in this country, with Myles Brand's verbage this past summer perhaps being a second.
The recruitment of Derrick Rose should be a lesson to all those coaches who aspire to coach elite talent but refuse to acknowledge the dollars of the NBA as the reason they are in a position to coach big-time prospects in the first place. I am not saying that Bruce Weber or Kelvin Sampson counts as one of these coaches, but that they never had a chance against an ahead of his time Calipari.
College basketball purists should take notice - your coach is going to start adhering to the Calipari philosophy more and more often, or except for in extreme cases, your coach is going to have more and more trouble winning basketball games.
And knowing full well that what I am about to say is now quite redundant, realignment in the C-USA has not and never will affect Calipari's recruiting sway - not in the least bit.
As far as the NCAA implications of Rose's decision, they are quite severe.
It remains to be seen how the Tigers will respond this season to the losses of Washington, Williams and Rodney Carney, but the program appeared to be in good shape even without Rose. The backcourt is literally overflowing with talent, so don't expect Calipari to deviate too much from his even-handed perimeter minute distribution in which not a single player averaged 30 minutes per game. Thus, it isn't as if Rose will have everything handed to him in his year on campus.
In terms of lead guards, Calipari already has tempo setter Andre Allen who will be a junior. But Allen will be hard-pressed to keep his job with the presence of heralded area point guard Willie Kemp, a freshman this year. Even sophomore wing Chris Douglas-Roberts was billed as a combo guard coming out of high school, though it is reasonable to assume that Douglas-Roberts or equally promising soph Antonio Anderson will take their chances with the draft this summer. Sophomore Robert Dozier is cut from the same mold of his prep school teammate Williams, and could be ready for a breakout year.
Incoming freshmen wings Doneal Mack and Tre'Von Willis will certainly push for playing time in 07, and Calipari already has a commitment from explosive SF Jeff Robinson in the 2007 class. Memphis is still recruiting elite combo forward Herb Pope, who certainly fits the mold of NBA-focused prospect that tends to end up at Memphis.
As far as post targets for Rose to get the ball to, Joey Dorsey will likely be back for his senior season. 6'10 Shawn Taggart is a potential NBA prospect sitting out the 06-07 season after Wayne Morgan's firing prompted him to transfer from Iowa State. This season's incoming freshmen Pierre Niles and Hashim Bailey are space eater types, though troubled sophomore Kareem Cooper was recently suspended and could be on his way out.
In any case, it is clear that Rose is going to have a diverse, talented supporting cast to play with. Almost everybody on the roster loves to get out and run, and all should benefit from the pure point guard presence of Rose. This was a likely top 10-15 team either way, but the addition of the future lottery pick could legitimize 2008 Final Four aspirations.
While Rose could be the final piece of the puzzle for Calipari, Illinois was in much more desperate need of immediate impact talent. Still smarting over the loss of Gordon and their ability to recruit other guards significantly marginalized during the year Gordon was committed, Illinois needs to get the recruiting situation turned around quickly.
Weber still projects to have a deep, talented rotation in 2007, but also one that lacks star power. The Illini will remain one of the top Big Ten programs as long as Bruce Weber is running the show, but Illinois fans now expect their team to contend for the conference title every year. With Gordon or Rose in the fold, there was nothing to worry about. With the recruiting turns of the three most recent classes, Weber and the program will have a black cloud lingering in the background until a big-time haul can be achieved.
Small forward Brian Randle's NBA stock is gaining momentum, but he looks like a 4-year player at this point. If he doesn't emerge as a go-to scorer, the Illini may have offensive troubles in key situations. The point guard duties will fall on juniors Chester Frazier and Trent Meacham, but the committed Demetri McCamey could push for an immediate starting job. Jamar Smith plays the role of shooting specialist.
The frontcourt will have options as well, with space eater Shawn Pruitt showing star potential as a sophomore. CJ Jackson redshirted last year but can play, and 2006 freshman Brian Carlwell could develop into a legitimate center presence.
Looking forward in terms of recruiting, the 2007 pickings are quite slim. Illinois is in on wing Mustapha Farrakhan, and will probably recruit talented class of 2006 shooting guard Leon Freeman should he qualify after a year of prep school. Options usually pop up out of nowhere in the spring, but it could be on to 2008 if Farrakhan or Freeman are no-go's. Weber is involved with a handful of Top 100 juniors, but might not have a shot at another Gordon or Rose for a while.
Derrick Rose Mini Scouting Report
Rose is one of the most naturally gifted point guard prospects to come along in some time. Possessing ideal size for an NBA PG, a mature frame and jaw-dropping athleticism, don't expect his stay at Memphis to extend past one year.
While Rose's athletic tools would lead one to think that he would stand out as a scorer, this isn't yet the case. Instead, Rose really impacts the game as a floor general. His play defines the word "steady" on both sides of the ball, creating plenty of shots for his teammates while avoiding poor decisions on the offensive end, and playing a relentless, physical brand of defense on the other.
Rose is somewhat passive as a scorer and doesn't have the greatest instincts as a penetrator, but his offensive game is starting to come around. He really started scoring the ball at the Peach Jam, a tournament his MeanStreets Express AAU team would end up winning, and put up a triple double against OJ Mayo and the D1 Greyhounds in Las Vegas. His teaming with elite Indiana pledge Eric Gordon led to a new level of dominance for both players.
The one area that could delay Rose's ascent to NBA stardom is the development of his jumpshot. Rose's shot could be considered streaky at best, and a complete liability at worst. At this point defenses will never play him honestly, limiting his ability to penetrate effectively. Rose can hit shots in stretches, but his release is inconsistent and quite unconventional. He shoots the ball from the side of his body, and his shooting arm tends to move horizontally during the motion. Rose's current shooting form is more viable the closer he gets to the basket, but he will have to make some major corrections before he is ready to star in the NBA.
At the prep level, Rose is the ultimate floor general. Beyond his immense athletic gifts, he plays the game with the maturity of a much older player. Rose is an excellent on-court leader, while his effort and willingness to get physical aren't ever going to be questioned. His maturity, athleticism, and feel are overwhelming on the AAU circuit, and that probably isn't going to change at Memphis. As long as he continues to push himself as a scorer and makes progress with his jumper, Derrick Rose is a likely top 5 pick in the 2008 draft.
In a draft class lauded for its guards, three exceptionally talented, and wildly different, forward prospects sit in the top six of our mock draft, each taking a very different path to the top, and demonstrating wildly contrasting strengths and weaknesses. So who is the best prospect among the three?