This article appears in the December 2004 edition of SchoolSports magazine.
Down at the courts inside the Kronk Recreation Center or outdoors at what the kids call Pink Park, there are three unspoken laws of the land. If you're tough enough, you can stay. If you're tough enough and good enough, you play. And if you're neither, you'd better go away.
Those are the hard facts of life when you grow up at the intersection of 30th Street and McGraw on Detroit's southwest side, like Chris Douglas-Roberts did. And you live by them.
But when it comes to basketball, the 6-foot-6, 180-pound senior guard at Northwestern doesn't simply live by the laws of the street. He embodies them. Which is a big reason why he's one of the best prep players in the country, rated the No. 19 hoop recruit in the Class of 2005 by SchoolSports.com.
"In the neighborhood I come from, everybody has that toughness," says Douglas-Roberts, who transferred from Cass Tech to Northwestern this past summer after averaging a jaw-dropping 28 points, nine rebounds and six assists per game last season. "My older brother always told me I gotta develop that ability to take over a game, and I really think I inherited it from where I come from. The end game is my favorite part of the game because that's when stars are born."
Douglas-Roberts, who will turn 18 on Jan. 8, is most definitely a star. In fact, he was a legitimate big-timer as a sophomore, when he averaged 15 points, five rebounds and five assists for the Technicians.
As a junior, he earned second team All-Detroit honors and was an All-Metro honorable mention selection after leading Cass Tech to a 12-8 record. And University of Memphis head coach John Calipari assured Douglas-Roberts he'd have a legitimate shot to start as a collegiate freshman, which is a big reason why he committed to the Tigers.
But in spite of all the rewards he's reaped thanks to his skyrocketing basketball stock, Douglas-Roberts remains grounded.
"My mom (Judy) and my teachers help keep me focused on my desire to make sure I stay humble," says Douglas-Roberts, whose parents are divorced and whose father, Christopher, lives in New York City. "I'm the same person I've always been, I just have a special talent. I don't ever want somebody to say, ‘Chris is changing.' I still hang around with the same people as I did when I was 5 years old. And no matter what happens, I'll stay down to earth."
That man-of-the-people attitude is at least a partial explanation for the way Douglas-Roberts plays the game. Though he's a proven scorer, he's equally dangerous as a distributor and is capable of holding down either guard spot. The other part of that equation is a simple case of altitude.
"Before I grew six inches since my freshman year — man, I grew four inches from my freshman year to my sophomore year — I was a full-time point guard," says Douglas-Roberts. "I'm very unselfish when I have talent around me. Yes, at Cass I had to score, but my passing is definitely the best thing I do. I can ball handle at my size, and that's a threat. I can get people involved, but I don't turn the ball over."
Northwestern fourth-year head coach Richard LeGreair says his new floor leader's numbers don't even tell half the story. Douglas-Roberts must be seen to be believed.
"You just have to see him play," says LeGreair, 38, a former All-City and All-State point guard at Northwestern. "For a guy at the high school level, it's amazing. He takes over games. He brings everyone else's level up. His handling and passing is above anyone else's in the state of Michigan, in my opinion. And when you see the enjoyment on his face when a teammate gets a layup off one of his passes, you understand how unselfish he really is."
It seems the only thing Douglas-Roberts gets possessive about is his playing time. That's a big reason why he committed to Memphis only after coach Calipari looked him in the eye in his own living room and issued a guarantee that he'd get a chance to start as a freshman.
"I wouldn't have chosen Memphis if I didn't think I could contribute right away," says Douglas-Roberts, who owns career highs of 42 points, 17 rebounds and 13 assists. "Coach Cal told me they've started 13 freshmen in the last 12 years. If I go in and get stronger and work on my game, I'll contribute. The exciting part is facing a lot of competition. The exciting part is trying to get to the next level beyond college."
The way many folks see it, the Tigers better play the kid while they've got him. Both Calipari and Arizona head coach Lute Olson have suggested Douglas-Roberts might only be in college two years before becoming an NBA draft pick.
"Coach Olson told me he's a sure thing to contribute right away," says LeGreair. "He said that if Chris continues to grow and work on his game, he won't be in college long."
Fortunately for his current and future teams, Douglas-Roberts is far more concerned with the road ahead than with what's in the rearview mirror.
"My AAU coach, Durand Walker, told me a while back, ‘Stay humble and never become satisfied,'" says Douglas-Roberts. "I like that. If you get to a high point in your career, try to get even better."
And when you're already tough enough, that's all you can do.