Through the Trifocals

Young superstars like Chicago Simeon's Derrick Rose appear to have unlimited futures. However, tremendous forces are at work to undermine their chances for stardom. <br><br> Illinisports discusses these pitfalls and how they can rob young basketball players of their ability to reach their maximum potential.

Derrick Rose is an upcoming sophomore at Chicago Simeon High School. A 6'-2" guard, he is described as possibly the best basketball player to come out of Chicago in many years and one of the best in the nation in his age group. Already, colleges are lining up to recruit him. And Illini fans are already salivating at the thought of seeing Rose in an Illinois uniform.

Derrick is said to have it all. He can shoot, dribble, pass, defend and score in a variety of ways. His high school coach Bob Hambric didn't allow freshmen to play varsity, but that didn't stop self-proclaimed authorities on high school basketball from anointing him as a future NBA star. And, oh yes, he can jump out of the gym. One report I saw said that Rose made a dunk so awesome that the day's practice was stopped prematurely out of respect.

And that, dear friends, is what concerns me about Derrick Rose. I hope he is the exception to the rule. I hope he gets good advice and listens to it. I hope he has caring parents who will shelter him from possible harm and immature decisions. I hope his coaches, teachers, family and friends understand his need to develop as a normal human teenager and place his needs above their own wants. But if past experience is any teacher, and it usually is, then Derrick Rose has little if any chance of reaching all his dreams.

I know that sounds harsh, but a review of the common scenario for young potential basketball superstars reveals pitfalls that can be difficult if not impossible to overcome. I would like nothing better than to see Derrick Rose succeed, and others like him as well. But despite what appears to be special talent, there are forces working right now to neutralize all his gifts. A look at the dilemma facing young superstars can be revealing. It is hoped Derrick Rose understands these things and prevents his own destruction. But it won't be easy.

Youngsters with special gifts are prized above others. They are put on a pedestal and idolized from the beginning. They are easily spoiled, as if they are naturally superior to others and should be treated differently than others. They are given the impression they are invincible and not subject to the forces of nature that keep everything (and everyone) in balance.

Shoe companies start prying the young prodigy with shoes, gym bags, clothing and food at an early age. And they may pay his AAU coaches and/or high school coaches to use their products and make sure he attends their high profile camps. Some of this money may filter down to him, making him feel special and better than others.

Other people who wish to profit from his future earning potential will try to befriend him, con him, and make him dependent upon them. In this way, he will be obligated to repay all the favors (financial, sexual, etc.) provided him while he was still young. These so-called "street agents" may be anyone from a friend or neighbor to a high-stakes "financial advisor", lawyer, or other big money investor. Sadly, many of them are corrupt and untrustworthy and function more like loan sharks than friends.

Youngsters who are pampered and spoiled come to expect others to give them things, do things for them, and solve their problems for them. They may never learn how to take care of themselves. They are allowed to believe that they can get their needs met through charm, manipulation, emotional blackmail and deceit rather than hard work, perseverence and trustworthiness. They may never learn the humility to recognize their own fallability. They may never learn to respect their peers for having an equal value and survivability in the world.

In short, they may never be taught the realities of life on Earth and are therefore susceptible to tremendous pain and disillusionment when things don't go their way. They may never learn how to adapt, how to utilize a variety of their different, less visible gifts to solve problems that are are not amenable to their usual methods of problem-solving.

One who is raised spoiled begins at an early age to behave arrogantly toward other people. However, arrogance is usually accompanied by an intense inner fear of possible failure. After all, that person lacks a supportive leader to guide him during the rough or scary times we all must face. Since he is basically left to behave as a leader despite his lack of experience at survival, he must disguise his fears with bravado. But it is confidence created by survival successes that allows one to reach his full potential through continued growth, while arrogance limits him to what he already knows.

Basketball players, especially those who are raised in poor environments, are highly prized. After all, basketball may be their ticket out of their present circumstances. And leaping ability is seen as the best single gift a person can have. Someone who can defy gravity and dunk over the top of an opponent is seen as the most likely to make millions of dollars playing professional basketball. Thus, he is immediately placed on a pedestal so high one cannot reach him without a tall step-ladder.

I can't help but remember Ronnie Fields of Chicago Farragut when I think of Derrick Rose. Also a 6'-2" guard, people would stop what they were doing just to watch him dunk. He was so explosive, so noticeable, that all other activity would cease just to watch him. On more than one occasion, I actually saw a white light flash and heard a popping sound at the instant Fields reached the zenith of his leap and slammed the ball home. People, myself included, thought we were seeing the second coming of Michael Jordan.

Ronnie was a legend in Chicago by the time he was a freshman in high school. People wanted his autograph or to rub shoulders with greatness. Everyone just assumed he would be an NBA superstar, and even back then there were many who sought to get close enough to him to curry favor from him. Or, they just wanted to ride the tail of his ascending comet.

There was only one problem. Ronnie Fields never found a need to develop other parts of his game. When he would shoot something besides a dunk, it was usually a three-point shot that was erratic at best. No one seemed to notice because they were all so infatuated with Fields' specialness.

But it seemed like Ronnie would only shoot from outside when he had no other choice, when a dunk was not possible. When he did shoot, it was like he was giving up on the play. After all, the crowd wanted to see him dunk, and he wanted their adulation. To do something else was almost sacrilegious. Despite how well Fields could jump, he shot set shots from the arc. It seemed to me he could learn an accurate outside shot if he would put the same effort and athleticism into it that he did his dunks. In other words, if he jumped high on his shot and thought of it as a 20 foot dunk, he would find joy and success.

But what friend or family member was going to risk losing their place in the possible money train by waking him to his limitations? Who was going to coach him to improve the holes in his game and risk Fields transferring from his school or team? What college recruiter was going to tell him he would have to work hard and improve if he wanted to start as a freshman? What high school teacher or principal was going to flunk him when he failed to do his school work satisfactorily, making him ineligible for his high school team and unrecruitable for college?

Sadly, Ronnie Fields also endured the lingering effects of a devastating automobile crash that prevented him from attending college or being drafted by the NBA. But he was ineligible at the time and couldn't have played at DePaul his freshman year anyway. And even when his injuries healed, he still lacked the fundamentals necessary to make the NBA. At last report, he still toils in some minor league of professional basketball, still trying to fulfill his dream. Most likely, his entourage has departed for greener pastures, and all he has left is a distant memory of a few people who accidently run into him and engage in some nostalgia.

I don't want this to happen to Derrick Rose or anyone else. But the changes needed at many levels by many people are likely too great to make. Rose will still impress with his skill, and others will still react as star-struck devotees. One can only hope that something deep inside Derrick Rose will guide him past all those who wish to hook him away from his dreams.


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