SYRACUSE - Basketball was Terry Rozier's way out.
Rozier’s father was not much of an influence on his life and is serving a 13-year sentence in prison for his role in a 2003 robbery and kidnapping. Because of threats made by his father’s enemies, Rozier’s grandmother took custody of him and raised him, but threats still persisted.
“I was never handed anything,” the Louisville guard said Thursday. “I was always the type to go get it and work hard for it, what I felt I deserved.”
Because of that upbringing, Rozier said he’s prepared to lead fourth-seeded Louisville against No. 8 North Carolina State in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday night at the Carrier Dome.
The Cardinals lost the majority of the core that took them to a 2013 national championship, 2012 Final Four and last year’s Sweet 16.
And Rozier, a sophomore from Youngstown, Ohio, overcame a troubled childhood and now ranks among the best guards remaining in the NCAA Tournament.
Behind Rozier’s 17.2 points per game, fourth best in the ACC, Louisville (26-8) accomplished what many said it couldn’t — make it this far into the tournament after losing players such as Russ Smith, Peyton Siva, Gorgui Dieng and Luke Hancock.
The dismissal of starting point guard Chris Jones on Feb. 22 threw another obstacle in the Cardinals’ path, but it hasn’t stopped Rozier.
“They’re all more aggressive offensively. I think Rozier is the biggest one,” N.C. State head coach Mark Gottfried said. “He’s the guy that seems to hunt for shots more. I think he realizes he needs to score and step his game up.”
In the Cardinals’ first game without Jones, Rozier dropped 22 points on Georgia Tech in a 52-51 victory. In the March 7 upset of No. 2 Virginia, he scored five points down the stretch and had an assist and a rebound.
Rick Pitino may be one of the more battle-tested head coaches in the Sweet 16, but his roster going into this year’s Tournament isn’t.
Rozier scored just four points in his 42 minutes on the floor during the Big Dance last year. Starting forward Wayne Blackshear had only scored more than 10 points in one of his 14 NCAA Tournament games before this year. Forward Montrezl Harrell wasn’t the double-double machine he’s been 13 times this year.
In this year’s NCAA Tournament, though, Rozier had a 25-point, seven-assist performance to lead Louisville over Northern Iowa.
“I talked to Russ a lot, a guy that I have a lot of respect for,” Rozier said. “He was so successful in this program and this type of offense that we play. He just told me, ‘Pick out your spots that you can score.’ I did that.”
Before the Cardinals’ locker room opened to media on Thursday, Wolfpack players pointed to themselves as the underdogs in Friday evening’s matchup. As the No. 8 seed going up against the No. 4 seed, they aren’t wrong.
But given what he’s been through in his life and the challenges Louisville has faced, Rozier feels differently.
“Playing with more confidence, you could say that. But they’re not the only team playing with confidence right now. We are, too,” Rozier said. “We’ve been an underdog all year. They can call themselves underdogs, but I feel we haven’t gotten our respect.”