This story originally appeared in the Holiday issue of ESPNHS magazine’s Ohio edition.
Coach, Terry Rozier just made my day. I’m going to call the other three guards (we’re recruiting) and let them know we got the guard that we want.
— Voicemail from Rick Pitino to Shaker Heights basketball coach Danny Young
Danny Young won’t be erasing that message anytime soon.
The Shaker Heights coach received the voicemail in early September, moments after Rozier had called Pitino to verbally commit to the Cardinals.
“I just felt like what he said was genuine and sincere (about Rozier being his No. 1 choice),” says Young. “He said he wanted to continue what myself and our staff had begun with Terry.”
Rozier, a 6-foot-1 point guard rated No. 88 in the ESPNU 100, had been overlooked for much of his recruitment — garnering offers from only Cleveland State and Akron through his junior season. So the fact that he ended up No. 1 on the wish list of an elite Big East program shows just how far things had come in the past year. And interest was growing. The day before Rozier committed, Pitino was joined at a Shaker open gym by West Virginia coach Bob Huggins and Cincinnati assistant George Jackson.
But Rozier had Louisville as his No. 1 school all along, so his commitment to Pitino was never in doubt.
“My dream is to get to the highest level, and he’s one of the best coaches in the country,” says Rozier. “Why not take a chance with a coach like that?”
A year ago, it would’ve seemed like Pitino was the one taking the chance. Prior to that, Rozier wasn’t a top 100 recruit and Big East coaches were nowhere to be seen. It wasn’t for a lack of talent, though. Rozier poured in 20.2 points per game and ripped down 5.6 rebounds a contest as a junior. The main culprit was a lack of exposure.
“It was unfortunate his AAU team didn’t play the best competition in the country,” says Young. “He was unknown. I kept thinking, ‘This kid is a high-major talent.’”
Local opponents have known that from the moment Rozier laced up his Jordans at Shaker. Standing a scrawny 5-foot-7 as a freshman, Rozier endeared himself to the coaching staff with his toughness and scoring prowess.
“He had the heart of a lion,” says Young. “I told the JV coaches we have to get him in the lineup as soon as we can.”
After torching JV competition to the tune of 25 points a contest, Rozier was promoted to varsity and got his first real action against state power St. Ignatius. He poured in 16 points against the Wildcats and then tagged JFK for 17 the next time out to cement his place in the rotation.
“We knew then we had something special,” says Young. “We just threw him in there, and he went crazy.”
Since then, Rozier has been an indispensable member of the squad. He emerged as the Raiders’ leading scorer last season, guiding the team to a berth in the Division I district quarterfinals. But for all his high school success, Rozier wasn’t getting the attention he deserved in the recruiting arena.
“He was slept on because of his AAU program,” says Garfield Heights coach Sonny Johnson. “He can do multiple things and is not limited. I always thought he was the No. 1 point guard in the state.”
Rozier couldn’t live up to those expectations if there weren’t enough eyes on him. His Ohio Shooting Stars AAU team was successful, but it wasn’t exactly known as a hotbed of elite talent. No, that title was reserved for the nine-time national champion All-Ohio Red ballers. The thought of changing teams was tempting, but Rozier was apprehensive because of his relationship with Stars coach Ed Heben.
“He was like a father figure to me,” says Rozier. “They were people I had been around since sixth grade.”
But if Rozier’s dream of playing for a major Division I program was to come to fruition, he would need a change of scenery. After his junior year, Rozier finally accepted the fact that he had plateaued with the Shooting Stars. Joining All-Ohio Red seemed like the right move because he would be playing on a team full of elite recruits, which meant extraordinary exposure.
“You have to have quality point guards to compete at this level,” says All-Ohio Red coach Quentin Rogers. “I saw him play, and I liked what I saw.”
And you can take Rogers’ evaluation to the bank. After all, his 2008 and 2009 teams combined to go 70-1 and claimed back-to-back national titles with the tandem of Juwan Staten (now at West Virginia) and Aaron Craft (now at Ohio State) running the point.
Rozier’s transfer immediately paid dividends. He served as the primary facilitator for the team’s top scorers, Kenny Kaminski, Jake Kretzer and Elijah Macon. He also proved capable of defending several of the nation’s elite PGs, ending up on the winning end of head-to-head encounters with UNC recruit Marcus Paige from Iowa and Baylor recruit L.J. Rose from Texas. While Rozier missed his old teammates, he knew he’d made the right decision.
“Going up against the best players in the nation was a good change,” he says. “The atmosphere was through the roof. It was probably one of the best moves I made in my life.”
He earned praise for his exceptional play at both the LeBron James and Deron Williams skills academies and punctuated his summer by collecting a gold medal at the Nike Global Challenge in Oregon. All the while, his recruitment picked up steam as more coaches saw him play. Cincinnati, Dayton and Illinois offered scholarships, and a few other top schools were tracking him before he made up his mind on Louisville. With his commitment out of the way, Rozier is now focused on delivering a state title to Shaker in March. Rogers believes it’s inevitable.
“After this summer, this season is almost going to be effortless for him,” the coach says. “Who knows where he would’ve been ranked if he had been here two years ago.”
“[This summer] built my confidence,” adds Rozier. “I can be as good as anyone in the top 100.”
That’s a message he’s hoping to deliver loud and clear.
David Auguste is an associate editor for ESPNHS and ESPNHIGHSCHOOL.com. Follow him on Twitter @ESPNHSAuguste or email him at David.Auguste@espn.com.