Sports in Chicago will go on; Bulls head to London


Oct 3

By Adam Fluck

CHICAGO—Derrick Rose’s dream of playing for the United States in the Olympics hosted by his hometown of Chicago will have to wait.

On Friday, Chicago’s bid to host the 2016 games was dealt a shocking blow when the city was eliminated in the first round of International Olympic Committee voting. It was later announced the 2016 Games are going to Rio de Janeiro, which beat out Madrid and will become the first South American city to host.

But life in the Chicago sports world goes on, and for Rose, an Olympic bid could still be in his future. And, as fate would have it, it might just be in the city hosting the Bulls’ next game — London, England.

Following the team’s 104-95 victory over the Pacers in Indianapolis on Friday night, the Bulls make their longest road trip of the season for the second preseason matchup. The Bulls and Utah Jazz will square off at London’s O2 arena on Tuesday.

But first things first, and though we all know preseason wins and losses count for very little, a couple relevant items can be derived from Friday’s game. First and most importantly, Luol Deng had a successful run in his return to the court, scoring 15 points in 25 minutes and experiencing no pain after the game.

“It’s been a while,” Deng said.  “The first half I felt really winded, but then I started to get my rhythm back.”

Secondly rookie Taj Gibson, a late first-round pick, put on an impressive debut with 19 points and nine rebounds, and enough enthusiasm for Head Coach Vinny Del Negro to compare him to the “Energizer bunny.” Forget the stat line, Gibson was busy doing his best to keep his nerves in check.

“I was just trying to be patient and wait for my number to be called,” he said. “I just wanted to try to produce as much as I could to help us win.  The first time in there, my heart was beating real fast… it being my first game in the NBA.  The vets told me to calm down.  My heart was thumping and I knew I had to calm down.  There was just so much adrenaline.”

Now, the team, along with selected front office staff and sponsors, will depart from Chicago early Saturday evening. Given the eight-hour flight and six-hour time difference, the Bulls will arrive at London’s Heathrow Airport just as Sunday morning in England begins.

For the players and coaches, double-decker bus tours and boat rides down the Thames River will have to wait. After clearing customs and checking in at the hotel, the team will head to the O2 Arena for a tentatively scheduled practice session.  After all, it is a business trip.

“I’ve talked to enough coaches that have done it, and I just feel with our schedule the way it is, let’s get right to it,” Head Coach Vinny Del Negro said on Thursday. “Let’s get the mindset right on the trip. We’ll keep them up so they don’t go right to sleep, and get them adjusted as quickly as possible. We need to put the work in.”

It’s a very long way to travel for just one preseason game, but the Bulls are going to make the most of it, said Del Negro, and it could even prove to be beneficial.

“You do lose some practice time, but we started a little bit earlier,” he explained. “I think it will be a good time for the guys to get together and enjoy the trip. We’ll look at it as a positive, and hopefully we’ll have our concentration down when we need to go to work.”

As camp came to a close, Del Negro anticipated needing six to seven preseason games before the coaching staff settles on a regular rotation. He also seemed generally pleased with the first week of practices and conditioning of the team.

“Guys have been working hard,” he said. “The atmosphere, continuity, and the familiarity are there. Now we’re just trying to fine-tune and pay attention to details, and get better in a lot of areas.”

Del Negro credited the rookies, James Johnson and Taj Gibson, for adding to the team’s versatility and length.

He also said that Derrick Rose has shown more leadership and employed a more vocal style thus far. Consistent with the team’s renewed dedication to defense, he also hopes Rose leads the effort to make a better commitment on that end of the floor.

Deng not quite 100 percent:
Following the team’s final practice prior to preseason games getting underway, Luol Deng estimated he was around 85 percent. The 6-9 forward, who missed the last 22 games of the regular season and the playoffs due to a stress fracture, was encouraged by the first week of practices and said he played pain-free on Friday.

“I think training camp helped a lot,” Deng said. “I really wasn’t sure where I was with full speed, because I wasn’t able to do much during the summer. I’m further along than I thought I was. I know I won’t play a lot, but I’ll try to use the preseason to get my rhythm back.”

Life on the sidelines wasn’t easy for Deng, who unfortunately, had been there before.

“When what you have is taken way, you realize how much you love it,” said Deng, who also missed a portion of his rookie season due to a wrist injury. “I really miss playing with the guys, and I missed playing basketball.”

Noah notoriety in Europe:
Take it from a well-versed international traveler, Joakim Noah; those long flights can take a toll.

“The jetlag is going to be tough,” admitted Noah. “But we’re fortunate to go to London and play basketball over there.”

Noah’s father, Yannick, was born in France and won the 1983 French Open. His mother, Cecilia Rodhe, was Miss Sweden in 1978. So it’s only natural Joakim would carryover some of his parents’ popularity—and he has. The NBA released this week that he ranks No. 14 on the list of most popular NBA jerseys in Europe.

Noah has family from France coming to Tuesday’s game in London, including his grandmother, who has never seen him play before. But she shouldn’t expect to see a finished product just yet.

“We have a long way to go,” said Noah. “We’re not there yet. But there’s definitely good chemistry and I think guys are willing to put in the work.”

While the majority of the core returns, the departure of Ben Gordon and his 20.7 points per game won’t be easy to replace, said the third-year forward/center.

“This is a different team,” added Noah. “People can’t underestimate what BG brought to this team. He was somebody who brought a lot of scoring and he affected the game offensively.”

Besides Gordon’s exit, Noah factors in the return of Deng and a full season with John Salmons as providing the team with a different look. A collective effort offensively can help make up for Gordon’s absence, according to Noah, who prioritized working on his hook and jump shots over the offseason while also adding some bulk.

“I feel stronger out there,” he said. “I’m still not 100 percent conditioning-wise, but I’m working pretty hard every day in practice and I’m feeling pretty good.”

Additions, then subtractions:
With the opening of camp on September 26, the Bulls added four free agents to the roster: Derrick Byars (6-7, 220), Curtis Stinson (6-3, 215), Chris Richard (6-9, 256) and Steven Hill (7-0, 245). As of Saturday morning, only Byars and Richard remain. The team waived Hill on Thursday and Stinson on Friday. Chicago’s preseason roster currently stands at 15.

Watch and learn:
Members of the Marquette University and Loyola University Chicago men’s basketball coaching staffs were on hand to take in the team’s final training camp practice at the Berto Center. The Bulls have traditionally allowed college coaches to observe practice during the first week of camp.

Visit and for complete coverage on the Bulls’ trip in London—including blogs, photos and video—from the team’s arrival on Sunday to the game against the Jazz on Tuesday.

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