Photo courtesy of University of Illinois Athletics.
By David Cordova
Transferring schools is never easy. After getting used to one school, you have to move on and get used to another environment. However, when an athlete does it, it’s for a good reason.
For the last few seasons, Adonis De La Rosa has traveled a long road that has taken him from New York to North Dakota to Ohio to Illinois. But it is a road that has been well-traveled and has brought him plenty of good luck and lessons that he will carry with him for a lifetime.
The 7-foot center is now in his final season of college basketball at the University of Illinois, but is a great asset to his team in more ways than one. He uses his length and body to get rebounds and block shots and does so with authority. On offense, he makes plenty of great moves and shows off his versatility with his ball-handling and is able to make some shots and power his way to the rim.
When asked what motivates him to be successful on the court, he replied, “Man, just everything I’ve been through, the trials, just being able to overcome that, injuries, and still pushing forward, being tough. Being from New York, being from the city, the bright lights, you gotta keep pushing, regardless of what happens, the ups and the downs, that’s where we come from. Regardless of whatever, we’re grinders, we’re hustlers, dudes that get it out of nothing.”
De La Rosa hails from the Soundview section of The Bronx and has been known in New York City basketball circles from a young age. He also has an older brother, Joey, who once played at St. Raymond High School and later on the Division I level at Florida International University.
In high school, the younger De La Rosa starred for Christ the King High School, as he led the Royals to two consecutive CHSAA city titles and two New York State Federation titles as a junior and senior. He also was named the Queens Player of the Year in his senior year by the Daily News and first-team all-Queens, also by the Daily News.
When asked about his time at Christ the King, he replied, “That was a great experience, I mean, since the moment I got there, they trained me, and I was working to be a pro. Since the moment I walked into Christ the King’s gym and being a kid, like I said, coming from New York, low-income, impoverished neighborhood, it was crucial for me to get that type of love from somebody that saw more in me than what I saw in myself.”
Straight out of high school, De La Rosa committed to St. John’s, but unfortunately, would never suit up for the Red Storm, due to him having to redshirt. On January 26th, he came back to play at Madison Square Garden with Illinois, who played Maryland, who at the time were rated as the No. 13 team in the nation. The Fighting Illini upset the Terrapins that day, 78-67, and although De La Rosa scored just one point that day, he was happy to be back in familiar territory.
When asked about finally being able to play a college game in New York City after being away for so long, he replied, “Man, it feels great, man. Right now, it’s been exactly five years since my freshman year at St. John’s, got ruled ineligible, had to sit that one year, but I got to watch and learn from a lot of guys, a lot of good guys, [like] D’Angelo Harrison, we had Chris Obekpa, Phil Greene, Rysheed Jordan, a bunch of guys, Jamal Branch. Those dudes, they showed me what I needed to do, they were 13th in the country and went on to play in the NCAA Tournament, and lost to San Diego State in the first round. It was just a great experience, knowing that we had every home game at the Garden, and just being back gave me chills, and I knew I had to bring something back for the city.”
After leaving St. John’s, he would wind up at Williston State College, a junior college in Williston, North Dakota. The JUCO route is not an easy one, especially if you’re a player that’s coming from a Division I background. But De La Rosa took everything in stride and worked hard to get back to the Division I level.
On his experience at Williston State, he replied, “It was more of like a culture shock, it was a great experience for me. Like, leaving out of St. John’s, I was a little heavy, I was over 320 pounds. When I actually arrived to Williston in August , I was 390. I was able to shed 120 pounds in one year and after that year, it was just a whole culture shock, a whole change, my diet changed everything changed and it was probably the best choice I’ve ever made in my basketball career was to go to JUCO.”
In his lone season for the Tetons, he averaged 11.1 points and 7.6 rebounds per game, while also recording ten double-doubles on the season, while also leading his squad to a 23-8 record, as they reached the Region XIII semifinals. After that season, he signed with Kent State University in Kent, Ohio.
As a redshirt sophomore, he averaged 3.7 points and 3.7 rebounds, while also finishing second on the team with 25 blocked shots. The Golden Flashes went 22-14 on the season and won the MAC Tournament and would wind up going to the NCAA Tournament, where they would lose in the first round to UCLA. The following season, as a redshirt junior, he averaged 11.8 points and 7.6 rebounds per game, as the Golden Flashes went 17-17 and lost in the MAC Tournament semifinals to Buffalo.
On his experience at Kent State and making the NCAA Tournament in his first season there, he replied, “It was a great feeling, we had played UCLA in the first round, we played those dudes, and we came out with a good showing, we didn’t come out with the win, but it was a great experience. I was a newcomer, coming out of JUCO, and we had a dude that was a double-double machine in Jimmy Hall, another New York native, and I had a lot to learn from him, and it was just a great experience. It was a great situation, being under him, learning his moves, getting the course of the game back, the feel for the game back, it was just a great experience.”
De La Rosa was born to parents that are from the Dominican Republic. For many years, the Dominican heritage has started to loom large on the basketball scene. There are also two fellow Dominicans on Illinois with teammate Andres Feliz and assistant coach Orlando Antigua, who is also a native of the Bronx who is a 1991 graduate of St. Raymond High School.
When asked if there was a moment when De La Rosa, Antigua and Feliz speak Spanish to each other when it relates to basketball, he replied with a laugh, “Yeah, sometimes. It depends. Me being from The Bronx, New York, I’m good with communicating in English, and the same with Coach O [Antigua]. But if Andres, we can speak to him in English, he can understand, but like you said, the heritage kicks in, and we end up speaking our native language.”
After graduating with a degree in educational studies from Kent State last spring, he decided to play out his final season of collegiate eligibility in Champaign, Illinois, with the Fighting Illini.
When asked about playing for Illinois and their head coach, Brad Underwood, he replied, “Brad Underwood has been great. The Illini nation has definitely embraced me, with warm welcomes and open hands, I feel like they love me and show a lot of support. Just being in that grad program and knowing that I’ve overcame a lot, being that this is my fifth year, I didn’t know what grad school was going into my freshman year. And now, it’s like, I want everybody from where I’m from to go to grad school, and being able to get a bachelor’s from Kent State and still being able to pursue my education while playing basketball, getting my fifth year back that they granted for me is just a great feeling right now, it’s a great place to be in, in 2019.”
When asked about the Orange Krush, the student section at Illinois, who shows so much support for their beloved program, but also can be a nightmare for their opposing teams, De La Rosa replied, “The Orange Krush, man, they’re, they’re great. They’re definitely at the games, they’re cheering, they’re wonderful.”
This season, De La Rosa has averaged 2.9 points as a graduate student for the Fighting Illini, who are 10-15 overall and 6-8 in the Big Ten. When asked coming to the Garden and knocking off a nationally-ranked team such as Maryland, he replied, “It’s just a great feeling, it’s a very great feeling, knowing that you’re from here, knowing that you want to come back and represent, and not only that, we’re New Yorkers, we don’t lose, it’s hard for us to lose. No hidden agendas, we just stay true to the scout, and everybody has a role, and if you just play your role to the best of your ability, and you’ll come out successful.”
Now that college basketball is coming to an end for Adonis De La Rosa, it’s going to be a bittersweet ending. It’s been filled with twists and turns, triumphs and heartbreaks. But at the end of the day, it’s been a song worth singing for the big kid from the South Bronx.