Rose’s first practice a winner


Sep 28

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They were bursting with pride around the Berto Center Saturday morning. All the big guys were there, sitting on folding chairs at one end of the court. They all were watching the kid, their kid in a sense, though not so much a kid anymore, take his metaphorical first steps, Derrick’s Rose first true full scrimmaging with his teammates since his major knee surgery almost 17 months ago.

“He attacked all day, in fact from the start,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, the day’s proud pop. “He made that clear.

“I’d say he doesn’t have to pace himself like he did,” added Thibodeau. “That part is a lot better. The change in direction is much better. The driving and finishing is a lot better. His timing is still not there, but it’s a good start. They were going pretty hard. I think he’s comfortable with his body. He’s strong, real strong, and he was attacking. Today, he attacked the basket a lot more than he did last year.’’

Last year was those few light scrimmages—-suggested in the media to be much more than they were since the top Bulls players didn’t scrimmage in season—when there were rumors and reports of some imminent return by Rose. But Rose never was fully healthy, nor confident. And he never much extended himself in those tests.

But Saturday with referees and the clock and the whistles, Rose was back driving and cutting and standing on his own two feet.

Someone get a picture of that baby’s first steps.

Though typical of Rose, he mostly downplayed the milestone compared with the destination.

“I was moving good,” said Rose, addressing reporters for a second consecutive day and still without his ‘My knee feels fine’ button he’ll probably need to wear these next few months. “It just felt good being out there with my teammates. We won the majority of the games that we did scrimmage against the other team. So that was a good thing. I’m just happy to be out there and feel like a part of the team.”

Yes, Rose counts the scrimmage wins and losses, too.

Just like Michael Jordan.

No, I’m not making any comparisons, nor to Jordan’s return from his broken foot when the next season he averaged about 37 points per game.

But Jordan was like that in scrimmages, as well, and it’s a big part of what drove those Bulls teams. After all, if the best player on the team wants to win even the scrimmage, then how can you relax?

It’s another reason why Rose is so special and vital to the team.

He’s a relentless competitor. Perhaps not to the level Jordan maintained, which almost was considered an illness the way he carried it to everything he did. But Rose comes to play and win and give everything he has at every time he plays.

It’s one of the elements of the star that cannot be measured in statistics. It’s part of making your teammates better that sometimes goes unnoticed. But not to teammates and coaches.

When you have a player like that, your best player who wants to outwork everyone because he loves to work so much, then practices become much easier.

We know Thibodeau’s reputation for hard work and practice.

Yet, Rose, whispering some as he chatted with reporters, said not to tell Thibs, but his own workouts were much more intense than the Bulls’ scrimmage.

“Don’t tell Thibs,” Rose said with a laugh, “but I have workouts harder than this. For real. I work out three times a day. So for us to actually go through practicing and have water breaks and all that, that’s something I don’t normally do in my workouts. So this is hard. But I’m used to it.”

You know Rose’s teammates might hate hearing that one. Challenging Thibs! Oh, no!

“There’s no pacing,” said Rose. “I’m going to push myself, continue to go hard and dedicate myself to this game. You’re definitely going to be winded when you miss a whole year. For me, my wind and just running after practice, getting up a lot of shots, getting my legs under me, that’s the goal.”

Still testing your knee? Rose was asked.

“No,” he responded. “I got confidence in my knee. There’s no testing anymore. It’s going out there and playing hard and attacking.”

No matter what Rose says or what anyone says, everyone also knows the tests will come in the games. First, working up to it in the preseason and then to open the regular season. But it’s not like everyone won’t still be holding his breath, perhaps other than Rose.

Medically, Rose is probably as strong as anyone. There’s probably no reason he should have any issue more than anyone else now. But because he had the injury, and because of his value to the team and, truly, the NBA, these questions and concerns won’t stop for a long time.

But like with any proud parents, there’s always the worry mingled with the pride for the kid. With every step, you also know there are bumps and holes and detours along the way that need to be navigated carefully. For every moment of pride, there’s also hours or anticipation and concern.

The kid generally feels it less than you do because for them it’s innocence and play.

So even as Rose has grown and taken the hard knocks, he also maintains that purity and innocence that suggests only the best times are ahead.

Rose says he’s gained about 10 pounds through all this, and you can see him even stronger. He says his waist size is down, though he’s not suggesting the ACL surgery as a diet method.

“I feel healthier, more balanced,” Rose said. “I’m happier I had this injury earlier in my career. Usually when you have (the surgery) it’s probably too late (to develop your body better). Now I have a chance to work and have another eight, nine, 10 years to improve. It took an injury for me to really take care of my body.”

Thibodeau likes to tinker with combinations, especially early in the preseason, and it seemed obvious Rose with Jimmy Butler could be something impressive.

“He’s good,” Rose said of Butler. “Man, he gives people hell on the court. He’s a guy where he has the same mentality I got. It’s like, ‘I don’t care.’ He’s going to go out and ball. He loves playing. Having him and having Joakim and everybody else behind me, it’s going to be a team effort. That’s what we’re trying to build. I think his (Butler’s) biggest adjustment is just going to be feeling comfortable, knowing he can take shots and make decisions. Even dribbling the ball up the floor is going to help us a lot, especially when we start running a lot.”

But Thibodeau was even more effusive regarding Butler, which was a bit unusual for the coach.

“Jimmy is sort of like under the radar. But he’s really tough, he’s improved,” said Thibodeau. “He’s not one of those guys that talks about it. I sort of get a kick, like in the offseason, everyone’s (saying they) had a great summer, everyone looks good, but Jimmy actually puts the work in. He doesn’t have to say anything. You look at him and his actions tell you what he’s doing. There are no shortcuts with him. He puts the work in and gives you a solid days work.

“Jimmy is very deceiving,” added Thibodeau. “He’s an excellent athlete, very explosive, very quick to the ball. That tells you how he sees the game. His reaction to the ball is special. He’s very quick, strong, can think ahead, very strong.’’

Which suggests perhaps one of the better starting backcourt combinations the Bulls have had in years, and with a savvy veteran and team leader in Kirk Hinrich to work with both.

Yet, all eyes will remain on Rose. It’s baby steps for now. But everyone who’s witnessed that with their own knows once they start they come fast.

“There was some hard fouls,” Rose shrugged about the first workout. “I just have to get used to it. I didn’t think anything of it. I just got up and shot the free throws.”

No, they’re not taking it easy on him. Which is good because Rose isn’t taking it easy on them.

“I was attacking but getting fouled,” Rose said, “learning how to fall, all that stuff. I don’t play pickup basketball. I never did. I don’t see why I have to. I felt comfortable enough in my knee where I think I don’t have to do that (this past summer).

“I think my IQ of the game has definitely grown,” Rose went on. “When you’re young, you’re so used to just sticking one player or being concerned with who you’re guarding. Today, we really went up some games against the other team by playing a team defense and knowing we have each other’s back.

“It’s kind of like freshie hell,” Rose said of opening two-a-day practices. “It’s a week of training hard. You can’t do anything. Everything is tied up into basketball. But for us, it’s something we love doing and we’re just sacrificing right now. I’m excited. Coming to the gym, I have a lot of energy. It’s fun playing on the court. Thibs is always going to yell and all that stuff. It feels good for him to even yell at us and yell at me. I feel part of the team right now.

“I’m not trying to sit out none,” Rose said of participating in every session. “Just like with the minutes. Whatever minutes Thibs allows me to be out there, I’m going to be on the court. I can’t wait (for the first game). That will be like the first big game I’ve played in a year and a half. I think everybody will be watching. I’ll be prepared.

“I feel back,” Rose reiterated as he will have to many times. “I’m not worried about anything. I’m reacting when I’m out there. I’m just trying to win every scrimmage.”

One step at a time.

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