RIVER GROVE, Ill. – Being Derrick Rose’s roommate isn’t so bad.
You’re given a roof over your head and your own room. The refrigerator is always stocked. Entertainment -- televisions, movies, video games -- is never an issue.
Rose is very giving when it comes to his roommates, but no one takes it for granted, and they all say they’d do the same way for Rose if any of them had made it to the NBA and he didn’t. That was the pact they made growing up.
Yet while being the reigning NBA MVP’s roommate is a comfortable lifestyle, it’s not something Bryant Orange, one of Rose’s three roommates, wanted to be defined by. He’s always had his own aspirations of playing college basketball and earning a degree.
Although those goals haven’t come as easy as Orange would have liked since graduating from Chicago’s Simeon Career Academy with Rose in 2007, he’s never stopped pursing them. He is now on path as a student and athlete to finally achieve them.
Orange was one of five senior starters, including Rose at the point, on Simeon’s 2006-2007 squad.
Having Rose certainly helped matters, but the four other seniors played their roles to perfection and Simeon rolled to its second consecutive state championship in 2007. Orange averaged 10 points and four rebounds on the season.
Orange had some Division I looks, but they were no good to Orange when he didn’t earn a qualifying ACT score. Instead, he would have to go what he now calls the tough route.
Orange’s tough route also happened to be a long one.
He began it by attending Butler Community College in El Dorado, Kan. Coming from Chicago, it was a culture shock to be attending a junior college in Kansas. Orange lasted one semester before returning home.
He never played basketball there.
Orange took his next shot at Fullerton College, another junior college, in Fullerton, Calif. He attended the school part-time for one semester and found himself back home again.
“They had a good basketball program, but I didn’t feel I had the academic support I needed and came back to Chicago,” Orange said. “After that, I was going to focus on baseball. My boys talked me into it.”
Orange’s pursuit of baseball took place at Oakton Community College in Des Plaines, Ill. He actually joined the basketball and baseball teams at Oakton, but he was never eligible to play. He was at Oakton for one part-time semester and one full-time semester and then was on the move again.
Kennedy-King College in Chicago was Orange’s next stop. He focused on his grades there and got them up to where he could be eligible to play sports.
With his grades finally good, Orange transferred to Triton Junior College in River Grove, Ill. in the spring of 2011. It’s there that Orange got his life on track.
“It’s been a ride,” the 23-year-old Orange said with a smile.
Triton coach Steve Christiansen knew of Orange from his Simeon days, but he didn’t really recruit him back then. Orange had been too big of a junior college prospect coming out of high school and Triton was just starting to put itself on the map as an elite program.
When the second recruiting opportunity presented itself, it was a perfect fit for both parties. Orange wanted to play at a high level of junior college basketball, and Christiansen can always use a 6-foot-2 shooting guard who can dominate in many ways.
“He was just a monster when he got eligible,” Christiansen said. “It’s the same thing you saw in high school -- he’s a tremendous athlete, extremely strong and powerful type of guy. When I got him, he was longer in the tooth, a little more focused, a little more poised than you get out of younger players. He’s just a hard matchup for guys at this level.”
Orange averaged 12.5 points in 17 games last season and helped Triton to a third-place finish in the Division II national tournament. He made the national all-tournament team and was the Region IV district tournament MVP.
Now in his second season, Orange has taken his game to another level. He’s averaging 15.6 points, 5.5 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.9 steals. Triton plays South Suburban in the Region IV championship on Saturday night with a berth to the national tournament on the line.
Rose even came out to see Orange this season. Orange thanked him by putting up a full stat line with 10 points, six assists, six rebounds, one steal and one block in a 40-point win over Black Hawk at Triton on Dec. 3.
“I went to one game and they ended up winning by like 20-something, then I said I wasn't going to go to anymore,” Rose said while laughing. “I try to give him advice here and there, but I can't say too much, they're winning. So I just try to provided him with the things that he needs and just try to keep him focused."
Christiansen was surprised to see Rose, but even more surprised Rose approached him.
“It was neat to see him,” Christiansen said. “He actually came down on the floor and introduced himself to me, and I asked him if I he had any more friends I could coach.”
Rose’s support has meant a lot to Orange, but as throughout much of Rose’s career, it’s been the example he’s set that Orange has been driven by most.
“Derrick is a real soft-spoken person,” Orange said. “To get anything out of him would be a huge success. He just leads by example. I try to look at him and look at what he’s done and what he’s got to and try to soak it in and put it in my game.”
Seeing Rose with the Bulls and close friend Ryan Allen play for Wisconsin-Milwaukee has been continued motivation for Orange. As much as he wants to get his degree and help his future, his desire to play basketball has pushed him the most through some rough times. There were certainly plenty of instances where Orange could have quit and walked away from his dreams.
“[With each transfer], I guess it was a sense of disappointment that I hadn’t played and knowing I could play at a higher level,” Orange said. “I didn’t let it stop me. I kept going.
“The only thing that was going through my mind is I want to play, man. That drive to want to play is the reason that I’m still in school and still playing right now. I think that was the biggest thing.”
Simeon coach Robert Smith is proud of Orange. Smith has been around long enough to know not everyone would bounce around like Orange did and still end up having success.
“I applaud him for his motivation, his discipline to be able to do those things and stay focused on achieving his goal,” Smith said. “Bryant is a different young man now. With all the hoopla with Derrick and all the accomplishments Derrick has had, he’s still focused on getting his degree and doing something he loves.”
Orange is now receiving Division II basketball interest and will have a semester and a half of eligibility left wherever he decides. He’s also on path to earn his bachelor’s degree.
“It feels good, man,” Orange said. “I can really say I’m proud of myself. I’m glad I stuck with it and got a chance to get in this situation.”
What Orange, Rose and the other roommates have accomplished since their Simeon days is something none of them forgets. They constantly remind each other where they’ve come from.
“We all sit around and look back how fast everything has gone,” Orange said. “We just tell ourselves every day is a blessing. We got to take full advantage of it.”
Orange can finally say he is.