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Former NBA player facing drug charge

Last Edited: Wednesday, 02 May 2007, 4:42 AM EDT
Created: Wednesday, 02 May 2007, 4:33 AM EDT


BRADENTON - Clifford Rozier once earned a hefty paycheck playing basketball in front of capacity crowds in the National Basketball Association.

On Monday the 34-year-old former first-round draft pick was arrested by Bradenton Police for selling cocaine as his post-NBA life continued to spiral out of control. According to a BPD report a patrol officer saw Rozier engage in what appeared some sort of transaction involving cash with another man in the 1000 block of 5th St. West. He immediately left the area and was spotted a few streets away involved in a similar transaction with another man.

When the pair walked into an area marked with no trespassing signs the BPD officer approached and discovered several pieces of crack cocaine in the other man's hand. Rozier was charged with one count of distributing cocaine and booked into the Manatee County Jail, a long way from where the former Bradenton Southeast High School basketball star was a little more than a decade ago.

In 1994, following his junior season at the University of Louisville, the Golden State Warriors made the 6-11 Rozier their top selection in the NBA draft. He still owns a team record for rebounds in a game with 21, a feat he accomplished as a rookie when he averaged a career best 7.4 points and 6.2 rebounds per game.

Three years later he was out of the league following short stints with the Orlando Magic, Toronto Raptors and Minnesota Timberwolves. Rozier also played in the now defunct Continental Basketball Association before returned to Bradenton for good in 1999. Since that time he's been arrested more than a handful of times on a variety of charges including petty theft, domestic battery and burglary.

 

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By Timothy O'Hara and Tom Balog

STAFF WRITERS

When Clifford Rozier graduated from Southeast

High School in 1990, the 6-foot 11-inch teen was a

hot basketball commodity, sought after by major college

programs eager to have

Florida's "Mr. Basketball."

Now Rozier is being

pursued again, this time by

law officers seeking to arrest

him on charges that he stole

an off-duty deputy's personal

car.

Rozier's path from fame and

a multi-million dollar NBA

contract to Manatee County

fugitive is an indirect one,

marked by incredible highs,

questionable choices, and a

pro career that just never

quite took off.

Friends and former

associates say they just

aren't certain whether there

was one decision, one turning point, that led Rozier

out of the spotlight, back home to Manatee County

and into trouble.

He came home in 1997, after he was cut by the

Minnesota Timberwolves, after a tryout with the New

York Knicks proved fruitless. He got married, then

divorced. He was arrested on charges of assaulting

his mother, but the case was dropped.

Recently, friends spotted him riding around

Palmetto on his bicycle.

Despite what happened in the past, his life hit a new

low last week. On March 28, Rozier argued with his

brother outside a Shell gas station on 55th Avenue

East in Bradenton. Employees inside the station

called 911 for help. By the time deputies arrived,

Rozier had run away.

His brother, Cykobie, pointed out to deputies a car

left behind at the station, one he thought belonged to

Rozier. Detectives checked the license plate. It had

been reported stolen by a Manatee County sheriff's

deputy from his apartment on 75th Street West.

Rozier was, and to some degree still is, the pride of

Southeast High School basketball. He could shoot,

run the floor and rebound. He scored 2,521 points

and had 1,104 rebounds in three high school

seasons. Coaches and media statewide named him

Florida's "Mr. Basketball."

In 1990, he signed with the University of North

Carolina, a college basketball dynasty, and he

played in the Final Four.

But after just one season, he transferred to the

University of Louisville. Some of his associates

believe that was his first misstep.

North Carolina is known for instilling players with the

discipline needed to be successful in college and

the NBA; Louisville did not enjoy the same

reputation.

"He got to take the easy way out and the easy road

to the place where he went and this is what it led to,"

his former high school coach, Bob Carroll, said. "He

didn't go to class at Louisville, period. And he was

still eligible (to play) and still an All-American."

He was twice selected Metro Conference Player of

the Year. He set a national collegiate record in a

game against Eastern Kentucky, sinking 15 baskets

from the field without missing and scoring 32 points.

He was a first team All-American, the first Louisville

junior to achieve that honor in a decade.

"He was dominating in college," said Kenny Klein,

who has been a sports information director for 18

years at Louisville. "He was as good a rebounder as

I've seen. He was relentless in his pursuit of the ball."

Rozier left college after his junior year. He was the

Golden State Warriors' first-round draft pick,

selected 16th overall. He would receive a reported

$4 million contract.

His 1995 rookie season would be his best. He

averaged 6 points, 7.4 rebounds and 22.6 minutes

on the court for each game. He grabbed 21

rebounds against Houston, the most by a Warrior

rookie in 14 years.

"I think Clifford would have been a good pro player,"

Klein said. "In the pros, they look at the bodies and

he had it. He had the strength. He was ferocious in

his pursuit of the ball and he was a good shooter."

But the dominance Rozier enjoyed in high school

and college eluded him in the pros. In 1996, the

Warriors traded him to the Orlando Magic. The

Magic soon cut him. He played briefly with the

Toronto Raptors and Minnesota Timberwolves. He

was cut by the Timberwolves in 1997. He tried out

with the New York Knicks, but didn't make the team.

He returned to Manatee County.

He married in 1997. He and his wife, Trina,

separated about six months later. They divorced in

2000. According to the divorce case file, he suffered

from an unspecified mental illness and received

$1,700 a month in disability payments from the NBA.

In August 1998, he was accused of assaulting his

mother and was arrested. Prosecutors declined to

file charges.

"He has been sick for awhile and he has had his

problems," his mother Dianne said Wednesday. She

did not comment any further about her son's current

problems with the law.

In a last ditch effort to stay in the game, Rozier tried

out with the United States Basketball League's

Bradenton Sun Dogs. He made the team but soon

left to try out with the Seattle Supersonics.

Yet the aging Rozier may have been no match for

younger, hungrier players, who regard that league's

teams as stepping stones to the NBA or Continental

Basketball League.

"If you're talking basketball, there is no future (for

Rozier). That's long gone," said Carroll, Rozier's

former high school basketball coach. "Survival is all

he has left. There's no comeback, no CBA."

Rozier has all but vanished from the lives of those

who were once close to him. He's had virtually no

contact with Carroll since he graduated from

Southeast more than 10 years ago.

Carroll remembers Rozier as a fairly good student

and dedicated player.

"My association with him was good the whole time. I

never had to deal with him having trouble with

drinking, drugs, referrals or the law," Carroll said.

"There's probably not any athletes, not any good

ones, that went through Southeast with that clean of

a record. He did everything asked of him and more

and he never gave me a bit of trouble.

"I can wrap it up in one word. It's very sad, just sad."