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Bulls' Rose stays close to his roots

4/15/2011
Randall Hampton (from left) Tim Flowers, Ryan Allen, Bryant Orange and Derrick Rose live together and have been lifelong friends. Courtesy of Bryant Orange

CHICAGO -- Tim Flowers laughed at Derrick Rose the first time they squared off in NBA 2K11 for PlayStation 3. They were playing on Rose's 60-inch flat-screen TV in the basement of his three-story townhouse. Flowers immediately clicked on the Boston Celtics. Rose and his three roommates -- childhood friends Randall Hampton, Bryant Orange and Flowers -- never opt for the Chicago Bulls. It saves them from arguments that way.

Rose began scrolling through the teams. He didn't stop on the Miami Heat and their trio. He wasn't feeling the San Antonio Spurs or the Los Angeles Lakers. No, Rose landed on the Toronto Raptors. Flowers thought he was joking. Rose didn't budge.

"We give him a hard time," Flowers said. "It's crazy for the most part. Derrick has a nice basketball IQ. He's always been real competitive with Toronto. In real life, they go out and compete, but they're not competitive or really any good. He has them competing with the Lakers and the Celtics. He'll sneak three or four wins from you with Toronto.

"The way he plays in real life is the way he plays on the game. He has Andrea Bargnani with 3-pointers, Jose Calderon to the free-throw line, his wings DeMar DeRozan and James Johnson are playing well. You're like, ‘What's going on?'"

The competition for bragging rights at NBA 2K11 is about the extent of drama that occurs in the Rose household. They're not exactly the Brady Bunch, but they're far from being a Real World cast. Their story is of four lifelong friends, all in their early 20s, living in a four-bedroom townhouse in Deerfield. Two of them attend college. A third takes college courses online and is a personal assistant to another roommate. The fourth happens to be a leading NBA MVP candidate.

They eat family-style meals together prepared by a chef. They constantly reminisce about their high school state championships at Simeon and where they came from on Chicago's South Side. They discuss their futures. They play late-night basketball at the Berto Center. They make fun of each other and are constantly laughing.

They're not angels, but their home isn't a bachelor pad with girls running around -- Rose and most of his roommates have girlfriends. They occasionally hit the town to enjoy the clubs, but it's clean and non-confrontational fun.

"Most of those NBA guys, their friends are just crazy," said Flowers, who is finishing up courses at Kennedy-King College and plans to play for Chicago State next season. "With us, everyone is the same. No one tries to go out and do anything flashy. We don't buy those crazy chains. We're real humble. You are who you hang out with. Derrick takes it from us. We take it from him."

That's also the reason why Rose's inner circle is so exclusive. In it are his three roommates, Ryan Allen, the younger brother to NBA player Tony Allen, and a handful of other high school and neighborhood friends. There might be eight friends over at Rose's house when they order a Manny Pacquiao fight. It's never more than that.

"We tried to keep the same core guys," said Hampton, who is Rose's personal assistant. "We've all grown up together since sixth grade. We try to keep it that tight. We don't want all these outsiders coming in. People try, but we don't really give them the time of day."

Rose is careful who's around him and in his house, but he leaves a lot of that responsibility to his three older brothers and Hampton. They keep an eye on everyone in Rose's vicinity.

"With Derrick, I knew his buddies in high school would still be his friends," said his older brother Reggie Rose, who is also Rose's manager. "His peers are his peers. The only people I was worried about was older guys. He's 22. There shouldn't be a 40-year-old man hanging out with a 22-year-old. I build a shield with those guys. If you're over 30, you shouldn't have anything in common with him unless you want something from him."

Rose may get together with other Bulls teammates or a Chicago Bears player while in the city, but he's not close with them. He doesn't extend his group for the hottest rapper, celebrity or anyone else. If you weren't tight with Rose by the time he was 15, there's little chance you're tight with him now.

"To me, that's what's always separated Derrick," Flowers said. "He didn't need those other guys. Some guys need that. Derrick's like me and our friends and the people we hang out with. They're people we've been around our whole life. That's our crew, our band of friends."

Rose treats his band well. His roommates don't pay rent. The fridge is stocked. He provides them with the newest Adidas gear. They're given Bulls' tickets and are welcomed in the team's family lounge at the United Center.

But it's not as if they take advantage of him either. They try to pick up tabs when possible. If Rose hadn't made it, and Flowers, Hampton or Orange did, they all believe they would have shared in the same way.

"We always expected someone in our crew to do something," Flowers said. "We always knew if one of us did something, we'd look out for the others because that's what our friendship is. It's a real friendship. We can count on each other no matter what.

"We all understand, through Derrick we do a lot of things and a lot of things have come into our lives, but we don't take it for granted. People wouldn't expect him to be as good of a person as he is. People see Derrick Rose the basketball player, but there's more to the man."

The word most often used to describe Rose by his friends is humble. The Derrick Rose they first met as kids is the still the Derrick Rose they know today. Money and success haven't altered who he is in their eyes. And just as Rose hasn't changed, neither have his friends.

Just as when they were younger, Hampton is the most mature of the group. If they were to pick a head of the household, Hampton, not Rose, would win out.

"He's 22, but he's an old soul," Flowers said. "He's the one who keeps everyone in our circle level-headed. None of it really matters to him. He treats Derrick like he's still Pooh. He treats me like Big Tim. Bryant is still B.O. He holds us all together."

Hampton was playing college basketball at Tyler Junior College in Texas when Rose was drafted by the Bulls. Rose needed a personal assistant, and he gave Hampton a call. Neither of them exactly knew what the job would entail, but they knew they could make it work.

"We never argue about anything," Hampton said. "It was easy. I knew he would do the same for me. It wasn't even hard for me to adjust to it or saying I work for him."

Hampton handles Rose's day-to-day life. He joins Rose on road trips and makes sure everything goes smoothly. He gets Rose to where he needs to be. He makes sure he's up for practice and appointments. The latter isn't always easy.

"Yeah, he gets a little cranky, but it's all right," Hampton said. "He gets over it."

Life in the Rose household is almost the same every day, especially during the season. Rose awakens and goes to practice. Flowers drives into the city and attends Kennedy-King. Orange commutes to Triton Junior College, where he plays baseball. Hampton does whatever is needed that day. By 6 p.m., they've all usually returned to the house and are hanging out.

It's during those evening hours when their conversations often turn to the past, which, in their case, isn't that long ago. They recreate games, such as their win over top-ranked Oak Hill or their back-to-back state championships. They talk about AAU trips and hotels they stayed in.

"It's crazy just how yesterday we were sitting in Simeon," Orange said. "Time flies by. We all talk about how we wish we can go back to those days. Even Derrick, it's unbelievable that he's in the NBA, and he still talks about how he wishes he can go back to high school because it was that much fun."

Their lives are slightly different now than they were in high school, but their friendships are the same. That's especially telling by the way they all ended up living in the same house. Ask anyone how it occurred, and no one can explain it. It just seemed to happen naturally.

"I went out there and didn't leave," Flowers said. "Bryant went out there and didn't leave. And we look at it two years later, and we've been living together. It's a good thing. I think we're all blessed to be in that situation to be together because we know each other better than anyone else.

"We almost all lived together back in high school. If you come by in the summertime, you would see Derrick at Randall's house, see me at Randall's house, me at Bryant's house. It was like we almost lived together from the time we became friends. It's nothing different now. It's just continued on."

There may not be a hotter athlete in sports right now than Rose. With that, everyone from fans to the national media want to tell Rose how great he is. The compliments are nice, but they also make Rose uncomfortable.

Whether Rose is voted the league's MVP or goes on to lead the Bulls to a NBA championship this season, he knows when he returns home to Deerfield after all the celebrating that life won't change. Hampton will still call him Pooh. Orange will still bring up their win over Oak Hill. Flowers will still laugh at him for playing with the Raptors.

"They're the reason why I'm this person that you see before you," Rose said. "They keep me humble. If they see me getting bigger or getting big-headed, they definitely stop me in my tracks. They're family."

Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at spowers@espnchicago.com.