The following column appears in this week's issue of The Voice-Tribune
Three months from now, Terry Rozier will have already played his last game as a Louisville Cardinal. There are usually very few things that I feel extremely confident about at this point in a UofL basketball season, but the previous statement is one of those rarities.
Many Cardinal fans aren't going to believe that statement (you've already shaken your head once, haven't you?), and the ones who do are still going to hold out a little hope (myself included), but instead of wishing, doubting, and debating, what we all ought to be doing is appreciating.
Rozier, you see, is in the midst of a full on star turn. When he busts out for a huge performance against a highly-ranked team in a game Louisville wins -- perhaps this Saturday against North Carolina -- that isn't going to be our little secret anymore.
While some Louisville fans have spent so much of the winter worried about Montrezl Harrell's captaincy, Wayne Blackshear's lack of assertiveness, or Chris Jones' ability to be a "true" point guard, they've overlooked the brilliance that has been the play of their sophomore guard.
As the calendar prepares to turn to February Terry Rozier has failed to score in double figures exactly once -- a 9-point performance against Cleveland State on Nov. 26. His lowest scoring output in ACC play has been 15 points, and over UofL's last 12 games he has averaged an unreal 20.9 ppg, 5.8 rebounds, and has dished out five or more assists three times. Oh, and he also leads the ACC in steals.
For comparison's sake, Rozier is averaging more points than Russ Smith was at this point last season, and has nearly twice as many rebounds. His current season average is also just 0.1 ppg fewer than Smith's final average of 18.2 ppg. Smith, you may remember, ended that season by becoming Louisville's first consensus first team All-American in 20 years.
Basically, Terry Rozier is having one of the best seasons of any guard in the history of Louisville basketball.
The statistics are one thing, but to truly appreciate the superstar corner that Rozier is in the process of turning, you have to actually watch him play for a full 40 minutes. Since the arrival of the new year, Rozier has made at least one play in every game that has made me drop my jaw and exclaim "my word" (or some variation) to no one in particular. It's gotten to the point where he'll do something that would elicit disbelief from the crowd if it came from any other player on the team, but because it's Rozier, it only receives measured applause. Making the extraordinary ordinary is what stars do, and that is exactly the type of player that Rozier is in the process of becoming.
In recent years, Louisville has had a lot of really good college players who you thought had a chance to eventually become decent NBA players. Rozier is a really good college player who has a chance to eventually become a really good NBA player. The lift he gets on his jump shot, his ability to finish around the rim in traffic, and, perhaps most importantly, his size; all of the elements are there for success in the professional ranks.
On last week's ACC coaches' teleconference, Rick Pitino was asked to describe something that Rozier doesn't do well. After taking a couple of seconds to gather his thoughts, this was the coach's response:
"I can't find a flaw in his game because he plays the one and the two for us, he's a good defender, and he rebounds. I always try to find a flaw with him, and I haven't found one yet. I don't know. I try to yell at him every now and then practice so it doesn't look like I'm babying him, but I can't find a reason to yell."
Despite all this, the NBA Draft chatter surrounding Rozier has remained fairly muted. One recent CBS ranking of the top eligible players for the 2015 draft had Rozier all the way down at No. 52. As we inch closer to the NCAA Tournament and the spotlight on Louisville grows larger, I expect that mindset to be altered significantly. Just make sure you're fully appreciating the reason for the change.