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Two for the show

Freshmen Beasley and Rose are the class of the NBA draft this year

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / June 22, 2008

Kansas State freshman Michael Beasley was a lock as the first selection in the NBA draft up until about April 8, when the Bulls and Heat met in Miami to compare train wrecks.

Chicago was 30-46 but still holding on to the illusion that it could be a playoff team.

Miami was working on seven straight losses, and by all indications had already tied the cinder block to its leg and thrown itself into the ocean.

Heat coach Pat Riley had already skipped out to scout college players in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Omaha, and the general opinion was that Beasley was in his crosshairs.

He was so pleased with what he saw that he flirted with tampering when he said April 7, "If the ping-pong ball falls right, I think one of the players I saw will be in a Miami Heat uniform. That was why I was in Omaha."

That same night, after losing in the national championship game to Kansas, Memphis coach John Calipari said star freshman point guard Derrick Rose "cried like a baby." The Rose that showed up for the title game wasn't the one that was on display in every tournament game leading up to that night - the sleek guard who scored and handled the ball like Dwyane Wade. The one who averaged 14.9 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 4.7 assists for the season.

Chicago and Miami met the day after the national championship game, but it wasn't so much a basketball game as it was an episode of "The Biggest Loser." On that night, the loser was Chicago, which dropped a 95-88 decision to officially be eliminated from playoff contention. But in the end, the bigger one turned out to be Miami, because the Bulls, who finished 33-49, managed to leapfrog the Heat (a league-worst 15-67) in the lottery to get the first pick. Riley stepped down as Heat coach weeks later, and Beasley suddenly found himself lined up with Rose in a LeBron-Carmelo, Oden-Durant debate.

"I think it just makes it more fun," Beasley said at the predraft camp. "A race isn't a race if you're running by yourself. It's competitive now, and it's time to compete."

With the draft coming up Thursday, competition is only a small part of the equation.

Listen to voices whispering in Chicago, and it sounds more and more as if drafting Rose is part of the city's social contract.

The 6-foot-3-inch point guard who can rebound like a center is one of the city's sons.

Rose attended Chicago Simeon, an athletic powerhouse on the city's South Side, and played in a gym named after the school's biggest unfulfilled prophecy, Ben "Benji" Wilson.

Wilson was considered by many the top player in the country after leading Simeon to a state title as a junior in 1984, but he didn't get a chance to play his senior year because he was gunned down the day before the season started.

Rose was a walking constellation during his days at Simeon, leading the Wolverines to two state titles. While he was doing it, he wore Wilson's number.

One of the city's coaching legends, Don Pittman, told the Chicago Sun-Times, "Derrick has a larger-than-life persona in Chicago. He is a cult hero and great role model to the kids of this generation. He has that same type of magnetism as Obama or Michael Jordan."

Tall tales

Beasley isn't a cult hero. In fact, part of him is still a kid. There's a story about how he was suspended from kindergarten for cutting off a girl's pigtails. It's funny how those stories never seem to stay in kindergarten.

No one doubts Beasley's freakish athleticism. He's called "Michael Beastly," and it's not a nickname of convenience.

He patterns his game after Carmelo Anthony's, but is cut more from Derrick Coleman's cloth, from his bullish habits in the paint to his gorgeous stroke from the perimeter.

"I've never seen anybody do to college basketball what Mike did," said Kansas State coach Frank Martin. "It got to a point where a 30-point, 14-rebound game was kind of expected."

In fact, Beasley averaged 26.2 points and 12.4 rebounds for the season.

There was a petty debate about whether he was 6-10, as he was listed in high school, or 6-7, as predraft workout measurements showed.

"We listed him at 6-9," said Martin. "Last time I checked, I've seen a lot of 7-footers in the Hall of Fame that didn't average 13 rebounds a game in college basketball. It's not to where the top of our heads go. It's where the tip of our fingers go when we extend our arms. That's what matters in basketball."

The basketball was never the issue, though. It was the pigtails.

Beasley and Martin had an agreement that they wouldn't talk about the NBA during the college season, but every now and then, Beasley would ask coaches whether they thought he was ready for the pros - not to play the game, but to handle the business and the lifestyle.

That's when the story about the pigtails came up, along with the stories about hiding his grandmother's dentures and writing his name on the trunk of his principal's car at Oak Hill Academy.

He's still a joker.

He worked out for the Bulls a few days before Rose did, and reporters asked him about his height. He told them, "It's disappointing to find out I'm a midget."

They asked him what part of his game he needed to improve, and he said, "Everything. Strength, conditioning, my jump shot, my dribbling, free throw shooting, rebounding. Cheerleading."

But when Martin thinks about the kid that after a loss went straight to the gym to shoot jump shots, none of the small stuff matters.

"He doesn't run away from a game," Martin said. "He doesn't run away from working."

After Beasley magically lost 2 inches, questions popped up about his ability to bang around the rim and still play around the 3-point line.

"He's got an unbelievable combination of grace and strength that I've never been around," Martin said. "He's got a lot of James Worthy in him. Unbelievable grace. Unbelievable runner that's just strong as an ox that can really score it around the rim.

"And at this time of his life, he just shoots the ball a heck of a lot better than Worthy did when he was younger."

Patience is essential

More than a couple of people have mentioned Rose's jump shot - better than Jason Kidd's, by Calipari's reckoning, but worse than Deron Williams's, if that says anything.

"I'm working on it," Rose said. "A jump shot can easily be improved, so as long as I'm putting in the work, I feel like I should improve."

But the biggest thing they'll both have to consider is that they'll lose.

As of a week before draft day, Chicago was the only team Rose had visited for a workout. He told the media assembled for his Chicago homecoming that he hoped to be picked by the Bulls, but that he'd go to Miami if he had to.

But the reality is that these aren't Jordan's Bulls. Calipari said he could see Rose having the same impact as Chris Paul in New Orleans or Williams in Utah - significant but not instant.

"He's got to learn that losing is part of playing in the NBA," Calipari said. "You make it hurt because you don't want to accept losing. You evaluate the loss and learn from it and then you move on. If you can't do that, you'll never be a great NBA player, and he's got to learn those things."

Martin feels Beasley will be a game-changer, but it will be a matter of time.

"When you're picking from two players like those two guys, there so similar in what they do, they're both winners," said Martin. "The teams that they have played on have both always won."

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com

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