HOUSTON - On a basketball court in New Orleans last summer, some of the best incoming freshmen in the country gathered to take on a collection of college veterans.
Derrick Rose had to like his chances with fellow freshman phenoms Kevin Love (UCLA) and Eric Gordon (Indiana) on his side.
However, Derrick Rose, who is now considered a sure-fire NBA lottery pick if he opts to leave Memphis, wasn't even the best point guard on the floor that day.
That distinction belonged to Texas' D.J. Augustin.
"I was just coming in and he got the best of me," Rose recalled.
"We beat them pretty bad, too," added Antonio Anderson, Rose's Memphis teammate who played in that camp with Augustin on a team that also featured Louisville's Edgar Sosa and Wisconsin's Brian Butch.
Sunday, Derrick Rose and Augustin face each other again. This time, a berth in the Final Four is on the line. In the South Regional final, Rose's top-seeded Tigers (36-1) will try to overcome Augustin's second-seeded Longhorns (31-6) in hostile territory, just a three-hour drive from Austin.
On Friday night, the 6-3 Rose showed point guard-starved NBA teams like the Knicks why he might be the guy to draft.
Rose dominated Michigan State with 27 points, five assists and four rebounds in just 26 minutes of the Tigers' 92-74 rout.
The freshman hit five of his first six shots and ran Memphis' "Princeton offense on steroids" - as Tigers coach John Calipari calls it - to perfection in building a 50-20 halftime lead.
"He's a great player and he's gotten better as the year went on," Augustin said of Rose. "He's a freshman and basically he's a sophomore now that the season is (almost) through."
With the size and athleticism that make NBA general managers drool, Rose may have just one weakness: his fear of needles. When Rose suffered a cut above his right eye early in the second half Friday, he refused to get stitches. During the nearly eight minutes he was out, Michigan State was able to cut a 34-point deficit to 14. Once Rose returned, Memphis coasted to its 18-point final margin.
"I'm terrified of needles," said Rose, who had four coats of a glue-like substance put on to stop the bleeding.
The speedy and strong Augustin has a way of needling his opponents. Just ask Stanford's 7-foot twins, Brook and Robin Lopez. Augustin sent them home after scoring 23 points and dishing out seven assists to lead the Longhorns past the Cardinal, 82-62, in their Sweet 16 game.
While Rose and Augustin may not guard each other most of the time - Memphis likely will put top defender Anderson on Augustin - whichever one has the biggest impact is probably heading to San Antonio.
Rose said all the right things yesterday, deferring to Augustin and deflecting all attention from himself. However, Rose can't shun the spotlight or the NBA scouts if he keeps playing the way he did against Michigan State.
Not bad for a kid who grew up on the tough streets of Englewood, Ill., with one thing on his mind.
"I just wanted to be the best in my neighborhood," Rose said.
Today, he can prove against Augustin that he's the best college point guard in the country.
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