LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- For University of Louisville freshman Terry Rozier, rebounding sends a message. It's his way of making a statement.
From a young age, he was told by his mother and his coaches that rebounding was something he could do to prove how tough he is.
"Rebounding is all toughness," Rozier said. "It's not a skill. It's something I just picked up, something I've always done. It doesn't matter how smart you are, you can go get the ball."
Over the past four games, Rozier has gone and gotten it as well as any Cardinal player. He had 11 points and eight rebounds in last night's 90-60 win over Missouri State. He had 10 rebounds in U of L's win over Western Kentucky. Of those 18 rebounds in the past two games, 17 were on the defensive glass. In that span, in fact, the 6-1, 170-pound native of Shaker Heights, Ohio, has had grabbed more than 30 percent of the Cards' defensive boards.
That happens to have coincided with his move into the starting lineup after transfer Chris Jones sprained his wrist. Rozier might not stay in the starting lineup, but he's going to be very hard to keep off the court.
He's rebounding at a rate rarely seen from guards at U of L. While his season average stands at 3.6 per game, he's second on the team in defensive rebounds and his recent form suggests he has a chance to be among the team leaders all season if he continues to improve. Because of his leaping ability -- and his ability to get off the floor quickly -- he's reminiscent of some of Denny Crum's better guards, if not quite their size.
The last Pitino guard to rebound at that kind of rate was Taquan Dean, who averaged 5.6 per game as a senior. Before that, you have to go back to Darrell Griffith and Butch Beard to find guards who made a major mark with their rebounding. It has gotten to the point with this team that big men like Montrezl Harrell and Stephan Van Treese have kidded him about grabbing their rebounds. It's not going to stop him.
"What happens with Terry is that, because he is a point guard, his man is responsible to get back on defense," U of L coach Rick Pitino said. "So he gets a clear shot at the glass and doesn't have to worry about blocking out. He's very good at it. He was in high school and he is now. It is nothing I taught him, he just does it."
For Rozier, just getting the chance to do it is something for which he remains grateful. He said he started wanting to be a Cardinal in the sixth grade. He became enamored with a documentary about the life of Sebastian Telfair, and though Telfair never made it to Louisville, the choice intrigued him.
When he didn't qualify academically and had to attend a year of prep school, he said he never wavered on his commitment to U of L. While putting in his time at prep school, he watched the Cardinals win a national championship on television, and came to the school promising himself that he'd be a part of the same thing.
He changed his uniform number to zero, to signify starting over.
"Nothing I've done up to this point counts," Rozier said.
Rozier isn't a big guard, but he is bigger than Jones or Russ Smith, and brings some wingspan and athleticism to the position to complement Smith and Jones, who are smaller, explosive scorers. His ability to defend and rebound earned Pitino's praise in preseason workouts almost immediately.
When Rozier started the season slowly, Pitino blamed himself, for not giving the freshman enough minutes.
Rozier has the ability to impact a game with his athleticism and rebounding like another guard who played against the Cardinals a little more than a decade ago. Dwyane Wade was a bigger player, and more athletic, but if you sense a similarity in style -- and substance -- between Rozier and the Miami Heat and former Marquette star, it's not by coincidence.
In fact, if you walk into Rozier' room at Minardi Hall, he says the first thing you're likely to notice is his Dwyane Wade jersey hanging on the wall.
Wednesday night in Miami, Rozier and his teammates will meet Wade and the Heat when they attend a game.
"I want to cherish the moment and have fun," Rozier said. "But we have to remember we're down there to practice and play a game and keep improving."
Rozier's embrace of Pitino's demanding preparation for games is making strides along with his play, and perhaps is a major reason for it.
"At first, I'm like, man all this film," Rozier said. "But we definitely paid attention (before Missouri State) and we were very prepared, especially in the first half, and the film and the scouting report is why. We feel like if we pay attention to the scouting and do our job, we have a chance to beat anybody."
With Smith and Jones leading the team in scoring, that's not what the team needs from Rozier. He's happy to step up in other areas, though.
"It was already good watching Russ on TV like I did last year, but it's even more amazing being on the court with him," Rozier said. "I just can't make faces when he does it like I did when I'm out on the court. He's the best player in the country in my eyes. He's done so much to put his program out there, and I hope people understand that. . . . To me, that means I have to get out there and play for the name on the front of the jersey just the same way."