It’s the final weekend of March Madness. What better time for a reunion of the two Memphis players who almost took John Calipari’s Tigers to the national championship last year.
Derrick Rose, with his gaudy stats—16.6 ppg and 6.2 apg—has gotten most of the attention since Draft Night, when he was selected overall #1 by the Bulls. His teammate, Chris Douglas-Roberts, had to wait tilt the second round, #40 to be precise, to be taken by the Nets. Then he had to wait til March to get real minutes, hampered all season long by a log jam in the backcourt as well as a tough knee injury. But he shined after Devin Harris went down vs. the Clippers.
Still, since Lawrence Frank inserted him in the rotation nine games ago, CDR has responded well. In that stretch, he’s averaged 17.1 minutes, and scored 7.9 points per game, including a high game of 18 vs. the Heat. Moreover, he has shot a terrific 58.7% (27 for 46) in the nine games, including 50% (2-for-4) from the arc and 83.3% (15-for-18) from the line, including 14 straight.
He’s also averaged 1.9 assists—including seven vs. the Knicks—and 1.8 rebounds. But beyond that, he’s brought intangibles to the Nets’ game, showing pride and drive.
In his interview with WFAN late this week, Frank praised the player known as "Buckets" in his Memphis days...and someone many fans thought he had forgotten.
"He has come a long way, and he is a very, very competitive kid," said Frank. "He has really, really matured [from] a professional standpoint, in terms of approach, understanding.
"Remember he came in...Derrick Rose was the best player, but he was the leading scorer on a team that very easily…was seconds away from winning a championship. Now you come in as a rookie. You’re learning, you’re starting over. And I give Doug Overton, one of our assistants, a lot of credit, every day grinding it out with him, working with him, and you’ve seen a great deal of growth.
"He's very, very competitive. We really feel he has a chance to be a really good player. He has such a herky jerky, unorthodox game combined with his competitive spirit, over time and with a continued opportunity to grow and gain minutes, I think he's going to be very good."
CDR admits the whole process has been tough.
"This whole game in my estimation is about being mentally strong," he told Steve Smith and Rick Kamla of NBA TV after the Heat game. "This whole year, I’ve managed to stay positive. Luckily, I’ve had great veterans on my team that encouraged me…even during the times I was down during the year, they’ve been able to pick me. I’m just lucky to have them, but as far as the basketball side, you just have to keep working on your game. It’s really, ‘no excuses’. It’s a marathon. It’s really not a race. It’s a long season and I’ve been hearing all year my opportunity will come. It has and I’ve made the most of it."
CDR also spoke about how his knee injury—a sprained right MCL—hurt his development and admitted in another interview, he admitted that "a couple times, earlier in the year, I wasn't ready."
"That knee injury earlier in the year really set me back a lot and I think I tried to rush back a little too fast, not knowing how long the season was and that made it worse," he told Smith. "Sixty games in, I’m healthy and I’m playing really well right now. "
Douglas-Roberts also learned a new position along the way, point guard—the same one Rose plays, of course. Call it the Memphis Matchup.