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Thursday, January 28, 2010
Updated: January 29, 10:40 AM ET
Rose reaps his just rewards

By Jon Greenberg
ESPNChicago.com

Reggie Rose goes to all of his younger brother's basketball games. Not because he loves the high life. He just wants his brother, one of the rising stars in the NBA and the rightful heir to Air Jordan, to feel at home.

"I know he's 21, but when he comes out of the tunnel on the road, it's nice for him to have a familiar face," Reggie said in a phone conversation.

On Thursday afternoon, Reggie, on the road with his brother, found out that Derrick made his first All-Star Game. So he called Derrick as he was going to practice in New Orleans.

Derrick Rose
After hearing that he was chosen for the NBA All-Star Game, Derrick Rose's first thought was to call his mom with the news.

What did Derrick say? If you know him at all, even from a sound bite, it's not hard to imagine his response.

"He was more humble, like, 'For real?'" Reggie said. "Then he said, 'OK, that's great, that's great.' Basically that was it. He told me he had to get off the phone so he could tell Mom."

I guess it's safe to say fame hasn't tainted Derrick Rose quite yet.

"He hasn't changed at all," Reggie said. "He's the same Derrick. He loves his sweets, his cakes and his grilled cheese sandwiches. The thing is, though, he just wants to win."

Rose hit a few speed bumps this summer -- an academic scandal at Memphis that wiped out his lone season of college hoops, and an embarrassing picture online -- but came out intact. He's still polite off the court and deadly on it. And he's only getting better.

On the day we lost J.D. Salinger, I thought to myself that even Holden Caulfield, the mordant alter-ego protagonist of "Catcher in the Rye," would find it hard to dislike Derrick Rose, who is nobody's phony.

"There is truly no one better," Rose's high school coach, Robert Smith, said Thursday.

The unbelievably gifted Rose got to this point, official NBA stardom, through hard work. You can see his game evolving, as his jump shots have started falling at a metronomic rate. He's taking over games now, seamlessly and naturally, and has averaged more than 26 points, with a 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, during the team's ongoing four-game winning streak.

Early in his Rookie of the Year campaign, he may have acquiesced at times to more experienced teammates. And he didn't rock the boat when his coach would leave the rookie on the pine in crunch time. But now, he knows he's the guy.

"I think in his first year, he just figured, 'I belong in the NBA,'" Reggie Rose said. "This year, he figured out, 'I can be one of the stars in the NBA.'"

There should be a great sense of civic pride that the Chicago-born Rose is the first Bull to make an All-Star Game since Michael Jordan was named MVP in 1998. (Yes, it's been that long. I know, I thought Kornel David made at least one ASG, or at least E-Rob.) Rose, the youngest player in the All-Star Game, will play with one of the six active players from that '98 game, Kevin Garnett, and against two others, Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan.

"I think Derrick is going to be the face of the next generation, from his great class of O.J. Mayo, Kevin Love and Michael Beasley," Reggie said. "The biggest thing Derrick has going for him is that he plays in Chicago."

While Chicago is the country's third-biggest media market, the Bulls and his shoe company, adidas, failed to put together a noticeable campaign to get him voted into a starting spot, the kids at his alma mater, Simeon Career Academy, tried to help.

The basketball team wore "Vote For Derrick" T-shirts, made by the Rose brothers and adidas, before a home game, and the school even implored students to vote online during class time. It didn't work, as Rose finished behind past-their-prime Allen Iverson (who is starting) and Vince Carter in the voting. It didn't help his cause that Rose got off to a slow start because of an injured foot that limited his preseason work.

Healthy and playing at "90 percent," according to Reggie, Derrick Rose is about to move up another level with the first of what should be many All-Star Games. If he gets some quality burn, his Q-rating should shoot through the roof. Given that it was recently announced that Rose has the fourth-best-selling jersey in the league, the NBA should trumpet Rose's ascendance.

Rose, who is nowhere near LeBron James' and Dwyane Wade's level of comfort as pitchmen, does have a few commercials under his belt, not to mention his Rookie of the Year trophy, but he didn't burst onto the scene like James. James, incidentally, is the only other superstar I could think of who is the No. 1 player on his hometown team.

Reggie Rose thinks his brother has already started to inspire kids from their rough old neighborhood of Englewood, across the streets and blocks in Chicago that tourists never visit.

Not everyone makes it after all. Simeon's Ben Wilson was shot and killed in high school. Ronnie Fields' life fell apart after he was done playing. But Rose is proof positive that good things happen to good people.

"He should be role model to all," Smith said. "He shows that if you work hard, you can make it. That's what he's been doing. He's always worked so hard."

"Seeing Derrick being from Chicago and coming back to Chicago inspires kids," Reggie Rose said. "This summer, you could see more kids were out at the playground shooting. We used to see Derrick out there playing on that blacktop."

I asked Smith if his players work harder now, as if Derrick Rose's success is some kind of carrot.

"You would think so," he said, laughing. "Some of these kids think it just comes natural. They don't understand the work ethic it takes."

Derrick, he said, always understood the practice part of it. I would love to have seen his face when he saw the infamous A.I. "Practice?" clip.

"He's like a machine," Smith said. "You have to tell him to stop working out."

All players talk about the time they spend in the gym, but Rose has singular focus, Smith said. If you tell him he can't do something, like shoot, he'll prove that he can.

"Everyone wanted to change his mechanics," Reggie said. "And it wasn't the mechanics. It was him hesitating to shoot the ball. Now, there is no thought process to him shooting the ball."

The work Derrick put in over the summer, from California to Chicago, has shown up in his game. He's shooting 47 percent overall, and according to 82games.com, he's hitting 45 percent of his jumpers, a better percentage than both Wade and James. I'm just sayin'.

His shooting gets better in clutch moments, too. His fourth-quarter dominance is evident when you watch the team play.

"I know that [the fourth quarter] is when my team looks for me to pick up my game," Rose told reporters Wednesday after the Bulls' win in Oklahoma City. "Now, I'm that guy that takes the shot or gets people open. At first, in the beginning of the season when we were losing, I wasn't used to taking all the [late-game] shots like I am now. I'm kind of getting used to it."

Considering that reserves are voted in by coaches, people are obviously paying attention. Rose is not a provincial pick.

Mark Cuban, this year's All-Star host, noted that this year's game, which will be held at Cowboys Stadium, is going to "make the Super Bowl look like a bar mitzvah."

That remains to be seen. After all, will they be giving away chocolate tennis rackets, as I did in Wheeling, W.Va.?

But it's an appropriate description in this case, because I think Dallas will be the stage where Rose, the shy, candy-loving 21-year-old mama's boy, becomes a man.

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.