Rose ready to take on the world


Aug 27

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It’s been a long, and somewhat, uncertain journey for Derrick Rose, who helps lead the USA Basketball team as it begins play Saturday against Croatia in the World Basketball Championships in Turkey.

A year ago at the early tryouts in Las Vegas, Rose was uncertain and badly outplayed head to head by Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook, who also is on this USA team.

Rose never said much, but it was obvious.

There had been all the hype after the spectacular playoff series with the Boston Celtics and rookie of the year recognition, but USA Basketball insiders recalled coach Mike Krzyzewski being overheard saying he wasn’t all that impressed given all the buildup.

“I still knew I’d have a chance,” Rose said late Friday from Turkey, where he’d just finished dinner (not turkey). “That was one reason I worked so hard this summer, to show I’m committed to USA Basketball and to working hard for this group.”

It’s paid off for Rose, but perhaps more so for USA Basketball and Krzyzewski as Rose has emerged as the team’s starting point guard and was the pivotal player in the pre-tournament win over Spain and player of the game in the win over Greece after Rose was named starter for Rajon Rondo.

Rondo then left the team, and Rose said it’s a confident, if not quite cocky, group heading into the tournament which concludes Sept. 12.

“We have a lot of confidence,” Rose agreed. “People talk about us having to play small (Lamar Odom starts at center with Kevin Durant and Andre Iguodala at forwards) and us having problems with rebounding. But it hasn’t hurt us yet. The guards are going after the ball and we’re pushing it and using our speed.”

Particularly Rose, who broke Spain’s defense down to score on the last two possessions to win that game and broke out fast, especially hitting his jumper, to lead the USA rout of Greece.

So what did Krzyzewski advise Rose?

“He said, ‘Play the exact game I play with the Bulls,’” Rose related. “’Attack everytime I get the ball.

“So against Spain that’s what I was trying to do,” said Rose. “I also want to let people know that I can be that player everybody in Chicago wants me to be in the clutch situations, that I can show I can win the game when it’s needed.

“It was a big game for us,” Rose acknowledged about the exhibition with Spain. “We know we’ll be seeing them again. So we wanted to let them know we can make the plays. I feel I’ve been a lot more talkative on the court, talking on defense, being vocal in the locker room. I feel I’ve come a long way.”

Yes, and he doesn’t mean just to Istanbul.

It’s been an eye opening trip in a lot of ways as Rose and some of his teammates took in the Greek antiquities and ancient ruins, not including the Knicks.

But the young USA team will have to be aware of the veteran European players.

Spain, particularly, may have been holding out some surprises as the U.S. players haven’t seen much zone yet from the veteran teams. Likely, they’re saving some of the defensive nuances for the later games.

The USA opens in a relatively weak bracket against Croatia, Brazil, Slovenia, Iran and Tunisia. Yes, basketball against Iran. It may be the only time their players get to protest calls.

It’s a young USA group, for the most part, with the exception of Odom and Chauncey Billups, starting at shooting guard next to Rose. It’s somewhat the future look of the NBA with no players from the 2008 U.S. Olympic gold medal team competing. Several will return for 2012, but already ESPN color man Fran Fraschilla, who has been doing the so called “friendly” exhibition games, predicted Rose would be the starting point guard for that team given his unusual strength conducive to international play. It was evident the way he finished the drive to score against Spain down the stretch.

For Rose’s part, he’s just thrilled to be part of the team, completing a golden summer during which he played basketball with a group of NBA players against President Obama and then dined at the White House and now starting in the World Championships.

“I wouldn’t mind coming off the bench,” said the ever humble Rose. “I’m just glad to have a chance to be here and play my hardest.”

Rose said the atmosphere of international ball has been unusual, if also fun. He said during the game with Spain fans blew whistles all game so that you had to play through the referee calls because you never could differentiate when the referee was making a call or the fans were blowing whistles. He also knows the U.S. is the villain for so many in the tournament and the play will be hard, which he enjoys.

“It’s all been great fun,” Rose said. “And I’m looking forward to continuing it this season with the team we have.”

So I wondered if with Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer, what kind of game would the Bulls of 2010-11 give the USA team. After all, Noah should have an edge on Odom. Durant probably on Boozer, but only playing outside. Iguodala and Deng are close. Maybe Billups by a bit on Ronnie Brewer, but the Bulls haven’t finished their roster at shooting guard and there’s still talks involving Rudy Fernandez and others. And then it’s Rose against Rose.

I wouldn’t wager against the Bulls team. Rose didn’t want to consider that one yet as he’s concentrating, for now, only on the chance for a gold medal in two weeks.

“No predictions yet,” Rose said with a laugh.

But one guarantee is the Bulls seem like they are going to get back an even better version of Rose than they have seen before. Which should make this coming season a world of fun.

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