Is Derrick Rose jinxed or just a sophomore?


Nov 18

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So that’s what the sophomore jinx looks like.

“I’m not getting no haircut,” Derrick Rose was saying Wednesday after practice at USC. “I’m not touching my hair anymore until I get back on track. I’m just trying to change something. There’s got to be something I’m doing wrong. I know the injury was something, but, man, it’s taking me too long to get back

“We’re winning, so I’m not complaining about it,” said Rose.

“(But) if we weren’t winning, I’m playing terrible. I know I’m not playing like my regular self. I don’t remember (ever playing like this). This has got to be the first time in my whole life. I never had an injury or anything like that. This is the first time I’m not being aggressive in a long time. Tomorrow (Thursday) things are going to change.”

That’s when the Bulls play the Los Angeles Lakers after opening the “circus” Western Conference trip with a win in Sacramento. It’s also when the trip turns potentially ugly for the Bulls with three of the top teams in the league consecutively.

So it would help, really help, if Rose became the freshman phenom he was last season instead of, well, just some guy.

I hated to write it, but it’s true. And Rose knows it. The scary part is he doesn’t seem to know why.

Scarier even is the last time a Bulls player endured the dreaded sophomore jinx. It was Michael Jordan in 1985-86 when he broke his foot and missed 64 games. There really hasn’t been a Bulls player since then worthy of being good enough to have experienced the sophomore jinx. Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant didn’t start as rookies, and while Elton Brand shared rookie of the year with Steve Francis, the team was so bad no one knew whether Brand was having any impact.

Rose came in last season and shocked the NBA world with his fabulous athletic play, attacking the basket and dunking like no point guard we’d ever seen.

And then in the playoffs Rose just got better.

All-Star? All pro? Best point guard in the league? Call the sculptor?

Heck, Rose this season isn’t even the best young point guard in the Central Division with the play of Brandon Jennings.

Rose is averaging 13.4 points and 5.5 assists, shooting 43.8 percent without having made a three pointer and averaging fewer than three free throws a game. Even as a rookie when everyone in Chicago thought he didn’t get a call, Rose shot more free throws. He’s down in every category from his rookie season.

It’s easily explained by the ankle injury that kept him out throughout the preseason, though even Rose is beginning to question why it’s lingering like it has. Rose concedes he’s not back to full health and still wears a bandage on his ankle that he never did before. Rose’s sees himself slashing to the basket and dunking like last season, but then he doesn’t do it.

“They’re (friends, family and advisors) just telling me to go out and play,” said Rose. “They’re saying it’s like I’m not happy out there. I’m definitely happy we’re winning. They’re saying it’s not me out there.”

There are many theories for this beyond the obvious of the injury.

There is the change in defenses following Rose’s rookie year, the loss of Ben Gordon, the team’s best perimeter shooter and the slow start of the team’s current shooters. Then there’s the psychological considerations.

Rose concedes he worked so much on improving his shooting this summer that he did rely on it too much, especially when he first returned form injury. Also, perhaps because he never had an injury before Rose is subconsciously holding back for fear of being injured again and perhaps being out weeks or months during the season.

The Bulls continue to say they are not concerned and are confident Rose is coming along.

“I think he’s got to gain confidence in his ankle,” said coach Vinny Del Negro. “He doesn’t have that explosion he had. He’s trying to get that back with his conditioning. I think he’s just a little bit tentative right now. He’s just got to keep on playing through it.

“Derrick will be fine,” insists Del Negro. “He knows how important he is to us with his growth. So we’ve got to be a little bit patient and give him some space and let him play and enjoy himself. He was set back with basically missing training camp. So he’s had to use the regular season games to get his conditioning in. It was unfortunate timing.”

And, yes, it is just 10 games and at 6-4 the Bulls are doing well with the difficult early schedule. And he is just 21 and in his second season. But to have much success they’ll need Rose to be much better as he has been counted upon to increase his scoring with Gordon gone. Thus far, it’s gone the other way, and everyone is asking Rose what’s wrong.

He wasn’t dejected or depressed during and after practice as the players relentlessly ribbed rookie Taj Gibson about the 20 foot high pictures of him and other USC teammates on the walls in the team’s gym where the Bulls practiced. The pictures of great moments in USC basketball, as few as there have been, were wall sized, reminiscent of the LeBron James “We are all Witnesses” mural outside the Cavs’ arena.

Though no one dare say it, the obvious fear is we are witnessing the humanizing of Rose. No one really wants that.

“I’m not going to the hole the way the way I’m used to,” admitted Rose. “It seems to me I’m not that aggressive. But it’s going to change tomorrow (Thursday). You get caught up with….I really don’t know. I get caught up with what happens if I shoot too many times and all that stuff, thinking about my teammates. But I know I’m going to have to aggressive from now on.

“In the beginning, after my injury, I was depending on just shooting the ball,” said Rose. “I only went to the hole in just a couple of games like three times and the rest is jump shots. It’s something you do rely on if you think you can shoot the ball better. Now I’m just being way more aggressive. I’m going to start attacking more.”

It starts Thursday in the home of the defending NBA champions.

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