Chris De La Rosa: For the Love of the Game
By Jessica Bernheim
UMBC Assistant Director of Athletic Communications
As soon as Chris De La Rosa arrived on campus at UMBC in the fall of 2008, the comparisons began.
Like the Retrievers' incumbent point guard, Jay Greene, De La Rosa was undersized, though at 5-foot-10, he had a few inches on Greene. Both were capable scorers and even better passers.
A Washington Heights, N.Y., native, De La Rosa transferred to UMBC from Siena after his freshman campaign and redshirted the 2008-09 season, Greene's senior year. Sitting out that season gave De La Rosa a chance to watch and learn from Greene, and also compete against him in practice.
"I saw his poise, his decision-making, his toughness," De La Rosa said. "But the main thing that I really learned from him was his confidence. He's a confident player; his game is based on confidence. If he turns the ball over or gets a foul, the next play he's going to come back. He's not going to back down, he's going to make something happen."
The Most Outstanding Player of the 2008 America East Championship and a two-time all-conference selection, Greene graduated in 2009 as UMBC's all-time assists leader, but he left the point guard position in competent hands.
De La Rosa, who left Siena in search of more playing time, was ready for the challenge. In 2009-10, he led the America East with 5.1 assists per game, and he ranked second on the team with 11.7 points per contest, but he said he never felt any pressure from playing such a demanding position or from trying to fill Greene's shoes.
"I think it is a lot of responsibility, but I don't see it as pressure, I see it as a challenge," he said. "I have been playing point guard all my life, and I like to be in that situation, to be quite honest."
After just one season, De La Rosa had established himself as one of the top point guards in the America East Conference, and opposing coaches took notice.
"Chris can beat you in a lot of ways, not just with scoring, but he's a great passer, a great floor leader,"Vermont head coach Mike Lonergan said before the 2010-11 campaign.
"He's a floor general," Boston University head coach Patrick Chambers added. "He makes everybody better around him, and he also makes shots, so it's very tough to defend him. He's a coaching nightmare because you really have to prepare for him and all the ways he can beat you."
As impressive as his UMBC debut season may have been, De La Rosa has improved both his scoring and his assists this year. His 6.7 assists per game again lead the league and rank sixth in the NCAA, while his 16.7 points per game rank second in the conference.
The junior has scored in double digits in all but four games, and he has five double-digit assist efforts. He has scored 20 points or more nine times, including 30 points against Central Connecticut State on Nov. 20 and a career-high 31 at Binghamton on Jan. 12. He made 10 of 24 field goal attempts against the Blue Devils and also grabbed a career-high 11 rebounds while dishing out six assists, but he was still unhappy with his performance because the Retrievers lost.
"I'm my worst critic, so I was still upset," he said. "I missed a couple shots, I could have assisted more, I felt like I should have rebounded more. That's just the way I am. I always think I can play better; I'm never satisfied."
His five other double-doubles this season have been of the point-assist variety, including at Morgan State on Dec. 18, when he scored 20 points and dished out 11 helpers, either scoring or assisting on 18 of UMBC's 22 field goals in the contest.
That game was just a microcosm of De La Rosa's 2010-11 season, as he has been directly responsible for over 50 percent of the Retrievers' field goals on the year. He has connected on 143 baskets while adding 161 assists on UMBC's 567 total field goals.
But he says he doesn't pay much attention to the statistics, as long as he is getting better every day and helping the team win.
"I never try to focus on one thing more than the other," he said. "I just try to be the best basketball player I can be all around, do whatever the team needs me to do to win. When I'm in the game, I don't pay attention to how many assists or how many points I have."
What he does pay attention to is everything that is going on around him, where each player has positioned himself, what the defense is doing. As the point guard, it is his job to tell his teammates where to go and get the offense started. In order to do that, he has learned the four other positions on the court.
"As a point guard, I think I should know every position because I need to tell everybody where to be," he said. "If I don't know the positions, then how can I help my team as a point guard?"
"He's not lying, he does [know every position]," UMBC head coach Randy Monroe said. "He is a basketball junkie, he just loves the game of basketball. He understands systems very well, he pays attention. He means everything to this team, and I'm really proud that he's a part of our program."
De La Rosa showcased his ability to serve as the floor general when the Retrievers visited Notre Dame on Dec. 22. The 20th-ranked Fighting Irish like to play up-tempo, so it was De La Rosa's job as the point guard to try to slow down the pace.
"We just had to be more disciplined and know the game plan," he said. "I just have to make sure everyone is in tune."
In addition to the fast-paced offense, the Retrievers had to contend with more than 6,000 screaming fans at Purcell Pavilion. De La Rosa said he tried to be as loud as possible, and he utilized timeouts and dead balls to tell give his teammates directions a play ahead.
But De La Rosa is no stranger to loud crowds and large arenas, as he played in the NCAA Tournament while at Siena. He says he doesn't notice the crowd noise, as he is too focused on the game itself.
"The thing about me is, when I'm playing, I don't really focus on the background or anything like that," he said. "Even my freshman year, that wasn't something big to me. Honestly, I just want to play basketball. I don't care where we play. We could play in the biggest arena, we could play in the park; I just love to play the game of basketball."