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A Life of Change Leads to Consistency in Basketball for Rozier

Celtics rookie Terry Rozier has found consistency in basketball after changes have been forced upon him his entire life.

Jessica Camerato profile picture
Updated 10 months ago on
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Terry Rozier hit the water. He submerged himself into the pool, fully clad in a specially selected suit. The temperature could have been ice cold or scorching hot – he doesn’t recall. His drenched body was numb to it, filled with too much excitement to feel anything in that moment.

The celebratory plunge in front of an exuberant crowd at a private party for family and friends on Draft Night was the culmination of 21 years of working hard and chasing dreams. Life was about to change for the hard-nosed guard from Ohio.

Then again, Rozier’s life has always been about change.

A Change in Home

The streets were filled with kids looking for a pickup football or basketball game to get involved with outside. Rozier was one of the more active children. He participated in any sport he could get his hands on and took on new ones to avoid having an offseason.

Inside his two-story Youngstown home, the scene was just as busy. His mother had friends and relatives over on a regular basis, each visitor was a welcomed face to Rozier. He enjoyed having people around.

“Somebody new would come every day and you’d look forward to it,” he told Basketball Insiders during a sit-down interview.

Rozier liked to be active and on the go. But around the age of six, it went from preferential to mandatory. His father was arrested, sparking a backlash that put Rozier in jeopardy.

“When my dad first got out, I moved with him and was living with him. I was having the time of my life,” Rozier recounted. “We’d put on the gloves, he had me running with weight vests, it was a lot of fun just to be with my dad. He had got in trouble, charged with murder and kidnapping, and there were some guys that couldn’t get a hold of him because he was locked up. The word on the street was, they were going to come after me.”

As a result, Rozier was forced to move from his mother’s house to live with his grandmother in the Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights. He didn’t want to leave.

“I couldn’t even accept it at first,” he said. “There was so much of me wanting to me be with my mom. My grandmother, we still talk about it to this day, how we didn’t really click at first, it was crazy. But I love that woman.”

Rozier was a tireless child. His grandmother brought him to the park to release his energy. New to the neighborhood, Rozier tried to get acclimated with his surroundings. He discovered there were other kids who shared a similar love of playing sports. They bonded over the commonality.

“That’s when I started to find myself,” he said. “At first it was, ‘Why is she taking me here?’ Then it was, ‘I can’t wait to go back.’ I loved the park. That’s basically where I grew up.”

A Change in Basketball Plans

Rozier started playing organized basketball around sixth or seventh grade. He modeled his game after Allen Iverson and Dwyane Wade. At first he didn’t shoot the ball much – he had a flair for crossovers and passing. Even though football was his first love, he began to draw more attention for his skills on the court. Once he joined an AAU basketball team, he chose that sport over football.

Rozier rose in the ranks to become the top player in the Cleveland area. He was recruited to play college basketball at the University of Louisville. Rozier clicked with head coach Rick Pitino from the time Pitino had watched one of Rozier’s high school games.

“I respected him since day one,” said Rozier. “I like a guy who won’t sugarcoat anything and will be honest with me. That’s the kind of guy he is. He has his times when he’s uptight a little bit, but I love that man.”

Rozier’s sights were set on college, but those plans were altered when he found out he had to improve his academics. He was frustrated to learn a summer course he had been taking to increase his grades didn’t count for credit. Instead, he had to attend prep school at Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Virginia.

The time at Hargrave during the 2012-13 season was a crash course in discipline. Rozier woke up every day at 6 a.m. The noise of horns blaring and staff members knocking on his door became familiar sounds. Some days they took away his phone, a temporary disconnect from the outside world.

Rozier used the time to think and read. He reflected on being a teenager back home with all the freedom in the world, texting his friends whenever he wanted and seeing them as he pleased. At Hargrave, he had to make new friends and maximize the situation he didn’t expect to find himself in. Rozier averaged 29.3 points, 7.8 rebounds and 5.6 assists that season, highlighted by scoring 68 points in a double overtime win.

“Once I couldn’t go to college and I heard the worst news of my life that I had to go to prep school, it turned out to be the best thing for me,” Rozier said. “I’m off in a military school. I had days when I’d cry, it was the worst. It was something you’re not used to. But I actually found myself. I got stronger, I started getting the confidence that I was really good at this game.”

A Change in His Body

In between Hargrave and Louisville, Rozier changed up his training regimen. He enrolled in Crossfit. For two months, he pushed his body to the limits. Eventually he excelled so much he was breaking records and other athletes there were encouraging him to become a Crossfit competitor.

Thousands of pushups, pullups, situps and burpees later – as well as countless hours of being screamed at by his trainer, Gina, to keep grinding – Rozier underwent a mental and physical transformation as he prepared for his first season in college.

“I liked it, I was seeing progress from my body,” Rozier said. “I couldn’t walk, I couldn’t move, and I couldn’t wait for that feeling to go away. But once it went away, I kept doing it. I stopped being sore and you could see the results. People were saying you look bigger and you just love to hear that, I couldn’t wait to get back in the gym.

“Crossfit tests your mental toughness because no workout was over 30 minutes so you had to fight through it and get to the next one. That, Louisville, things that happened when I was young, all adds up to my mental toughness. That’s why I can run after a hard workout. We had to do a three-minute run with all the guards, I’m training to do things like that so I can fight. I can tell my legs, ‘You can push through this.’”

A Change in the Public Perception

Rozier played two seasons for Louisville and declared for the 2015 Draft. He left school averaging 17.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.0 assists as a sophomore, and believed he was ready to become an NBA point guard. Others, however, didn’t have the same opinion.

Because Rozier played primarily off the ball in Louisville, there were critics who questioned his potential at the one spot.

“I know people say I can’t play point guard when I’ve been playing it all my life,” Rozier said at the NBA Draft Combine.

Rozier worked with trainer Cody Toppert at the Elev8 Sports Institute. Whereas he changed his body going into college, the 6’2 guard changed aspects of his game going into the league.

“We had to battle the perception that he was a volume shooter, only looking to score, not looking to pass, wasn’t great in the pick and roll, but who had all the physical attributes you’re looking for,” Toppert said. “Those are a lot of things to change in a short amount of time.”

Rozier was also critiqued for his shot. Toppert described Rozier’s shooting technique out of college as “kind of catapulting the ball.” They worked intensely on attaining the optimal 47.5 degree angle, analyzing the differences in such detail that a matter of two degrees made a major impact, focusing on where his elbow finished on the release.

Toppert also resonated the importance of running the floor. Since the role wasn’t solely on Rozier’s shoulders at Louisville, Toppert noticed Rozier often was the inbounder. Going into five-on-fives at the Draft Combine, Toppert told Rozier he had to the be the player who dribbled the ball past halfcourt, unless they were in transition. By being more demanding of the ball, Rozier was able to show himself more as a point guard.

During the draft process Rozier worked out with 16 teams, including twice with the Boston Celtics and San Antonio Spurs. He participated in a Pro Day toward the end of his workout schedule. Even though he had shown most of the teams what he had to offer at that point, he was hard on himself for what he considered a poor offensive performance. He insisted on spending at least another hour putting up more shots while the activities wrapped.

“He’s a blackout worker and he’s so dedicated to his craft that those changes were easy,” said Toppert.

A Change in Leadership

The role of a point guard is to be the floor general. In addition to ball handling, they are tasked with communication and vocal leadership. The non-basketball aspect of the position was a new challenge for Rozier.

“I definitely feel like Terry can be a great leader, but he’s never had to be in that situation before,” former college teammate-Houston Rockets rookie Montrezl Harrell said. “It’s something he’s going to have to learn, but I think he definitely has a chance to be great at it.”

With every aspect of a player’s game under a microscope during pre-draft workouts, Rozier’s verbal leadership was a talking point during the process. Rozier recalled a conversation he had with Celtics President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge about it during a visit with the team.

‘He said, ‘I’ve been around the game for a long time – how Jason Kidd was, how Larry Bird was, as far as they don’t talk on the floor that much, but you might have a lot of stuff built up inside of you, but it works well for you because you take it out on the court,’” Rozier recalled. “He was like, ‘Some people probably wonder why they can’t get through to you, why you don’t talk enough.’ He was right on the money.”

This emphasis has continued throughout Rozier’s training. Toppert implored him to become a vocal mainstay, talk consistently and adopt the communication style E.L.O. — early, loud, often. Even though Rozier’s style is leading by example, it is important for him to work in leading with his words as well.

“Terry is a great guy, nice guy and because of that sometimes he was non-verbal in his communication with his teammates at Louisville and even early on in the draft process,” said Toppert. “That was something he really had a big improvement on. He did a great job at coming out of his shell.”

A Change in Life

Rozier was one of the surprises of the 2015 NBA Draft, skyrocketing up the boards to go 16th to the Celtics.

From standout sophomore to eager rookie, Rozier now finds himself in a position to learn from his teammates rather than being a go-to. He is approaching his first season with a balance of soaking up proven basketball knowledge and fulfilling his role as a contributor.

“Terry’s unbelievable,” said Marcus Smart. “He’s a quick learner and really coachable. … He has an ability to create for himself and others. Most rookies don’t come in with that type of motor. He’s really aggressive getting to the rim and making plays.”

Off the court, the irony is Rozier isn’t much different at all. He is still the ambitious kid from Ohio, the one who visited his former school after being drafted and remembers where he came from, a motivating factor in why he wants to keep moving forward.

“I’ve seen too much (failure), “he said, “You want to be the reason why your family smiles. You want to change up everything.”

In the midst of the Draft Night festivities, as Rozier stood dripping from a poolside celebration, his cousin told him, “Nobody makes it out of Youngstown.” Rozier did. Even though he had changed his location and many aspects of his game along the way, there was one thing he refused to alter.

“I’ve been motivated since I was young and I don’t think that’s ever going to stop,” Rozier said. “That’s what I learned to get me through and get me to this point, so why change?”

Jessica Camerato is a bilingual reporter who has been covering the NBA since 2006. She has also covered MLB, NHL and MLS. A graduate of Quinnipiac University, Jessica is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association and the Association for Women in Sports Media.

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