MARCH MADNESS THROWBACK: Pooh Lifts Memphis Tigers to NCAA Title Game

Zeke Thomas isn’t the only NCAA Tournament giant from Chicago. The Shadow League Tourney Titans series has expounded on some great stories so far, but we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention another behemoth from the Windy City. His government is Derrick Rose. His nicknames are D-Rose, The One, The Point God, or just MVP if you want to be politically correct. I call him Rose Gold.

Derrick “Pooh” Rose was another Chicago legend, who did damage during March Madness. (Photo: Getty Images)

 He’s more recently become known as the comeback kid because he’s rebounded from career-threatening injuries and should have made the 2020 All-Star squad as a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves. He’s a walking, living example of how basketball is a microcosm of the world and all of its experiences. The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat and determination to get back off the mat.

 On the court, Rose is still swift. He still has that effortless slash to the basket and off the hardwood floor, he’s even quicker to the bakery. Before all the accolades, aliases, slam dunk endorsements, trials and tribulations, Derrick was just Pooh. A young south-sider with dreams of making it out the hood.

 Enter Englewood’s finest.

Prior to becoming the NBA’s No. 1 Draft Pick, an All-Star Bulls guard and gold-medal Olympian, he first rose out of Chicago’s tough Red-South division as a state champ for the Simeon Wolverines.

He wore No.25 as a tribute to Simeon legend Benji Wilson who was slain on a Chicago street corner before his senior season. The skill, hoop mastery and promise in Benji lived on through Derrick, however. The kid had the full package early: The overpowering, yet deft first step. Professor X-esque mental toughness. A slick south-side, playground-style middle game. The patented runner and a passionate drive to win have also been some of Rose’s calling cards.

 The humble warrior won two state titles before he signed as an All-American floor general for the University of Memphis.

 NCAA Championship Run 

Because Memphis retired No.25 on behalf of Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway, he wore number No. 23 this time around. Very fitting for someone whose leaping ability and star power gave you flashes of his Airness. With his polished athletic build, Rose didn’t look like a freshman at all. Instead, he fit in with an experienced Tigers team who were stalwarts in their own right.

 This squad, who went to the Elite Eight before Rose arrived, also featured combo guard Chris Douglass-Roberts and veteran All-Conference big man Joey Dorsey.

 With the addition of the high-flying Rose and the tough-love coaching of John Calipari who was desperately trying to silence the critics and win a “big game,” this proved to be arguably one of college basketball’s greatest teams as they started 28-0, steamrolling the competition en route to breaking numerous school, conference, and NCAA records.

 Rose had 22 double-digit scoring games during this time period. His star ascended exponentially near tourney time with the young guard dropping 25 on Southern Miss in the third round of the Conference USA tourney on 9-14 shooting.

 Rose continued dragging his opposition during the March Madness tournament by filling the basket with scores of 17, 17, 27 (a collegiate career-high), 21, 25, and 18 in a losing effort in the NCAA title game against Kansas. Memphis finished the year at 38-2, still tops for most wins in college basketball history.

 After the season ended, the NCAA forced the Tigers to vacate all 38 of their wins because of NCAA rule infractions. Fortunately, for Memphis, the memories will never fade.

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