The sun that begins to shine on Derrick Rose’s life


Jul 30

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One of Derrick Rose’s best traits, at least for his mental health and state of mind, is his faith. So even after the devastating knee injury in the 2012 playoffs, and then yet another knee injury that required still another surgery and another lost season, Rose didn’t ask why him, didn’t blame anyone, didn’t hide from friends and teammates and curse his fates. He took each unsteady step toward a better life and career.

But Wednesday in Las Vegas after a third successful day of training with the USA Basketball team, Rose admitted there were tough times, dark moments, though not what or when you’d expect. It was when he was playing again last fall into late November. Because it wasn’t the same. Because it wasn’t fun. It wasn’t a game anymore. Rose was trying to do too much too fast, to be everything for everyone, to erase the doubts and the critics. And instead of the beautiful baby basketball had been, the hug from his mother and the embrace of life, it became a task, a job, a chore.

It wasn’t how basketball should be, not how it always had been, what produced the love affair in the first place. Derrick Rose wasn’t who he had been or was or wanted to be.

"My body’s feeling good and that’s the only thing I’m worried about," said Rose. "My mind is clear."

“My body’s feeling good and that’s the only thing I’m worried about,” said Rose. “My mind is clear.”
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images

The irony was that it took that second knee injury last Nov. 22 for Rose to see the light once again. It is the complexity of the man who is Derrick Rose. Instead of the devastation of going out again, losing the game that always has been his life, Rose got his message, that basketball does reflect life. Certainly for him. It won’t last forever. And few have it and have had it as long as he has. So enjoy it as long as you can. Embrace it and revel in it and don’t let a minute pass without a smile and that warm feeling of appreciation.

Life is basketball; basketball is life. Treasure it no matter where it leads.

“Looking back at it, the first time I came back, I felt like it was damn near like a job instead of just going out there and having fun,” said Rose, relaxed in another long session with reporters amidst smiles and jokes and earnest consideration. “When I came back last fall, I felt like it was a job. I wasn’t smiling, I wasn’t enjoying the game. I was trying not to mess up. And with me, I usually just go out there and play. Me playing at least is something good. But at the time, it was just too much going on and I think that was just a dark side for me, a dark period of time.

“It changed with the second injury,” Rose said. “I knew that I couldn’t be mad or be in that place for a whole year again. So I really attacked my rehab and it really was fun this time. The first time it was hell. This time it was hell, too. But I was able to enjoy it a little bit more, seeing that improvement. Having my family, having my teammates. I was around the team a little bit more this time. I was on the bench with the team. So just being around the team, being in practice, being in the meetings, it kind of made me feel like a basketball player again. At the same time, I knew I wasn’t playing. But it kind of eased my mind, being around my teammates and really talking basketball to them.”

No one really wants these sorts of blessings in disguise. Though life carries with it no promises. The family cocoon that protected Rose from the horrors in his South Side Englewood neighborhood growing up could not shield him from the scars of life. Fame, fortune, success and accomplishment do not insure well being.

Rose certainly would rather not have learned as he did. There are no guarantees he won’t have to endure some more tough tests. But that he’s come through it as he has suggests everything about him will be stronger and the appreciation will be so much greater. It’s maybe better to imitate than his spectacular dunks and exciting maneuvers.

“It’s been excellent,” Rose said about his first three days in Las Vegas, which have impressed observers with his play while the important cheering has been internal. “My body’s feeling good and that’s the only thing I’m worried about. My mind is clear. I’m eating right, getting all the nutrition that I’m supposed to get and getting rest, getting off my feet. I’m just happy to be here and happy that I have my friends here. So that they’re giving me a lot of confidence and a lot of relief just being here.

“It’s totally different,” Rose said of his approach to training and nutrition. “Waking up, making sure that I’m hydrated, drinking six to eight bottles of water every day, things that I thought I’d never do. Eating, taking supplements just for my blood flow, just everything. Stretching at night, using a roller. Just becoming a professional. I remember my rookie year and I would see all the old players stretching and bone-rolling and using trainers to stretch them. I didn’t think nothing about it. But now I’m kind of mad because I didn’t take advantage of it when I was younger and whenever I talk to these younger players, I try to tell them, ‘Man, get the maintenance on your body. Get massages. Make sure you’re always getting treatment because you’re going to need it for this long career.’

“My weight was looking good (during rehabilitation),” Rose said. “My body fat was probably four or five percent. They were trying to get it above four because they said four was a little bit too low with how much I weighed. So I think I’m around 4.5 or five percent body fat. Being 209, I think that’s pretty good.

“Here, I think my schedule would probably be lift two times a week—if I was to make the team—and every day it’s kind of like a recovery day after practice,” Rose went on. “Normally after I leave here, I’ll go get a massage, get something to eat, get acupuncture and by that time, it’s 9:30 or 10 and it’s lights out. I’ve got to get some sleep so I can wake up and feel rested for today.”

The distinction is it is a job and you have to take it seriously. But when you love your job it is fun. And you should have fun with it. It’s something Rose understands and appreciates so much more now. It’s so obvious to observers. Coach Mike Krzyzewski, who gushes about Rose whenever he talks about him, repeatedly calls him one of his favorite people, said if anything Rose tries to please too much. Chairman Jerry Colangelo has noted several times Rose’s enthusiasm for the game, which has been infectious around the team. “I love that he is smiling,” Colangelo said.

Rose is smiling, too, for the team the Bulls have assembled for the 2014-15 season.

“I think this is the most talented team I’ve played on in my NBA career, to tell you the truth,” Rose said. “With all the players I have, the experience that everybody is bringing to the table, and the way everybody is working out individually in the offseason from what I’ve been hearing. Just seeing Tony Snell bust his (butt) in the gym the whole summer. Seeing Doug [McDermott] come in and doing the same thing. And they end up playing well [in summer league]. It kind of gave me a boost and let me know that hard work pays off. So I’m watching them play summer league games a couple of times, see them playing with a lot of confidence. It just gave me confidence coming to this trial, actually. I think that we have a deep team and we have players that have one goal, and we’ll do anything to get there.’’

“I have that sense that they (Bulls) went for it,” Rose added. “They gave it their all; we got who we could get, who wanted to come, and that’s who we have to ride with. We have a lot of confidence in the players we just signed. And we know that the guys we already have here are working out very hard. It’s just a matter of fact of just getting in the gym, working out together, gelling very quickly if I’m going overseas early.’’

It’s just two or three weeks between the end of the Basketball World Cup and the opening of Bulls training camp in October. But Rose said he’s been hearing from teammates, making connections.

“It feels good knowing that people see that I’ve been working my butt off,” said Rose. “If anything, it’s going to push me to keep working. It feels good when your teammates hit you up or text you, like Joakim’s been texting me a lot, saying that he’s been hearing about how I’ve been playing and it’s pushing him to go into his rehab with his knee even tougher. So it goes a long way.

“I talked to (Gasol) before he signed and he said when we get to Spain that we’ll probably get something to eat. So I’ll probably catch up with him, get dinner or something,” said Rose, perhaps looking ahead just a bit. “If not, I’ll catch up to him when we get to Chicago. I called (Pau). Got his number and ended up reaching out to him. I’m happy he showed gratitude and picked up. It seems like he’s a cool dude. Just can’t wait to see how I play with him.’’

It seems so long ago now, but the worst, says Rose, wasn’t that first wait in 2012-13 with the almost daily sightings and speculation about his return from the ACL surgery.

“I knew in my mind that if I wasn’t right, I wasn’t playing, and Jen (Swanson) and everybody was on the same page, from the front office all the way down to the strength and conditioning coach, Nick (Papendieck). Everybody knew that I wasn’t ready at that time and we kind of kept in,” said Rose. “I kind of let them know every day that I wasn’t ready.

“Yeah, I would hear about (the speculation of a return),” Rose said. “I wouldn’t pay attention to it. But people would come and ask me about it. I’m thankful that my teammates didn’t ask me because they kind of knew that I wasn’t ready or they probably saw that I was able to play. They left it up to me, so I appreciate that.”

The journey is hardly complete. Rose knows that. He knows there’ll be difficult times and challenges once again. There are for everyone. But he knows. And he’s going to enjoy it every day no matter what the forecast.

“I feel great, man,” said Rose. “I don’t have any aches, knock on wood (he literally knocked on the basketball floor beneath him) I feel great, for real. I’m really taking care of my body. I really feel like a pro. I usually say whatever the game needs (is what I’ll do). That’s what I’m going to put into the game. I learned that by actually playing through my mistakes with the first injury. Just seeing that I was forcing everything. It wasn’t just the way I was playing, I wasn’t enjoying the game like I was before the injury. Now it feels like I appreciate it a little bit more, just enjoy being on the court and playing the game I love playing.’’

Perhaps that’s been the real return for Derrick Rose.

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