USA Basketball off to a rosy beginning


Jul 28

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There was much anticipation and a festive atmosphere Monday on the UNLV campus for the opening of USA Basketball training camp for the 2014 Basketball World Cup. It was Derrick Rose’s latest return from multiple knee surgeries, and the reviews were spectacular.

“Better than four years ago,” raved coach Mike Krzyzewski.

“Looked real explosive, I thought he was one of the best players here,” said Bulls rookie Doug McDermott, a member of the USA Select Team scrimmaging against the USA National Team hopefuls and with his own foot injury basically past.

“The same (speed and explosiveness). The strength in his leg is great. His explosion is back. That’s all there,” enthused Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, a USA assistant to Krzyzewski.

"I know what I still can do," said Rose. "I really think that I’m a special player in my mind. I still have youth. I’m only 25, man. I’ve been preparing for this moment."

“I know what I still can do,” said Rose. “I really think that I’m a special player in my mind. I still have youth. I’m only 25, man. I’ve been preparing for this moment.”

“If today was any indication he is going to be just fine. I think it’s a glowing report for a great player. I’m excited for him. You are talking about a former MVP in the league. I did not see any loss of explosiveness. I saw him turn, go to the hoop with reckless abandon a little bit, hit some outside shots, excellent defense,” agreed USA chairman Jerry Colangelo.

“I know how special I am as a player,” said Rose after two hours of scrimmages and workouts. “I know what I still can do. I really think that I’m a special player in my mind. I still have youth. I’m only 25, man. I’ve been preparing for this moment. By coming in, playing [last season], of course I wanted to prove everybody wrong at that time. I wanted it too, too bad. This time around, I just know that I’ve got to let the game come to me. Go out there and just play. Usually when I go out there and just play my type of game something positive comes out of it.”

In some respects, Monday was like one of those 13-0 White Sox or Cubs opening day wins.

Great stuff, everyone happy, lots of positive thoughts of what could be. But all the seasons are long. And a lot can happen, as the Bulls and Rose know from bitter recent experience. I was convinced the Bulls had a championship team given their size and depth, their league best record, domination of Miami in the regular season and Rose’s play in the labor shortened 2011-12 season. Then Rose tore his ACL in the opening playoff game and it was just another first round playoff elimination and concepts like “overachieving” the next two years with Rose out except for the first 10 games of last season.

The Bulls appear back to that level again with a brilliant offseason that gives them arguably the best front court in the NBA and depth to rank with any team in the league, a rookie of the year candidate and a starting lineup with three All-Star players in Rose, Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol.

But for all the optimism about the offseason acquisitions, everyone knows it all really depends on Rose. After all, as Colangelo noted, this is a former league Most Valuable Player. You don’t replace those players. Ask the Miami Heat this season.

Rose will likely be part of this 12-player USA team roster that defends its 2010 title (when Rose was starting point guard and leader in assists) and is the model for the U.S. team to compete in the 2016 Olympics. In the last part of the scrimmage open to the media, Rose was on a team with Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis and James Harden, all expected to be starters. USA officials were thrilled to see Rose as they remembered him as opposed to how they’d mostly seen him the last two years, being helped off the court in his own disappearing act.

Rose was the magic of Monday’s opening day. He drew the biggest media attention in an unveiling that made Rose laugh as well. You live your life and assume because you know others do as well. But they don’t. So it was like paleontologists revealing a rare find. Yes, he jumps and runs.

“I’ve been feeling good about myself for a long time,” Rose said. “I’ve been playing up and down in Chicago. (But) no one has seen me in a long time. So it’s kind of weird. People are kind of like in awe just to see me going down the floor like I’m (missing a leg) or something. It’s a good feeling and this is only the beginning of a long journey, a long grind and I’ve got to put this behind me, take one day at a time and become a leader.”

Rose knew, of course, but no one else did.

The question is whether he can sustain and even though Rose and Thibodeau dismissed the concern, it will be there. For all the acquisitions this summer, the one that matters most is the return of Rose at full health. There’s really no reason to believe he won’t be healthy and back to play the way he was with no problems. Rose admitted he’ll probably dial back his game some from the ferocious, attacking player he was. But he’ll dunk if it’s there, he said.

Players have knee surgery or surgeries and return these days to spectacular form, like Russell Westbrook last season after three surgeries. Rose’s mind and body has changed. Director of sports performance, Jen Swanson, who is now drawing attention from even other teams to survey the Bulls methods, remained with Rose. Rose talked about more core body work than ever, pace and patience, film study and reflection. His hair was longer and his maturity deeper. He’s better prepared and his body is strong. He’s more than two years out from ACL surgery without an issue. He should be as healthy as anyone else in the NBA.

But because of his injury history, the concerns will remain until he can play through them. Rose talked about how thrilled he was with the offseason additions whom he believes will make the Bulls serious and legitimate title contenders once again. Though more so because Rose can be that leader again. Not necessarily an MVP and not necessarily that bail out every game guy. There are enough other guys. There’s just no main man. That’s Derrick Rose.

When will you be Derrick Rose again? he was asked.

“Now,” said Rose. “I’m there.”

The Bulls — and, really, the NBA because of what his presence means to the game — can only hope.

USA Basketball, nevertheless, is being cautious with Rose. He played in the two main scrimmages, but in a later intrasquad one played just the first run. As Thibodeau pointed out, there are so many good players even when the team cuts down to 12, Rose will not have to do that much or play that long, so this is a perfect transition to the regular season.

When the media watched late, Rose mostly set up the team and shot three pointers. In the earlier scrimmages with the younger NBA “select” players, Rose was more dominant in going to the basket, driving past opponents and defending studiously. No hesitation, no pauses. Not even any ice on his knees after the scrimmage, though he wore protective wraps during the play like most everyone else. Krzyzewski talked of Rose assuming a leadership role along with Durant given their MVP’s and Rose’s previous status with USA Basketball playing as far back as 2007.

And while for everyone else it’s a mystery and whether it can be a mastery, for Rose it was just another day of playing basketball. There really have been few athletes ever who have handled disappointment and setbacks with such grace and aplomb. Rose talked even about how the injuries were a “blessing in disguise,” enabling him to spend more time in formative years with his son, Pooh Jr., PJ, who turns two in October. Rose shook off questions about being the target of critics like he does a heavy footed defender. He said it was both motivation for him, though he also without rancor understood people can be upset and you have to respect opinions.

It’s why this crazy view around some of Chicago that Rose didn’t want to play was so ludicrous to be, if not insulting, just plain erroneous. “Basketball is my life,” Rose repeated. He was born, if also nurtured, to play. And you could see it most Monday in the unrestrained joy that even the most hardened observers noted.

“He was so happy to be on the court,” agreed Colangelo.

Rose’s smile was so prevalent it almost seemed like he kept hearing a joke in his mind. He laughed about watching film, but making sure not with Thibodeau. The interview session with reporters, which lasted about 25 minutes, the longest among the USA players, was filled with bonhomie even among the prying reporters. Camera holders jostled for position at times, though for Rose it was relief to be back and just one of the guys again. Playing ball. Having fun. Really. Not the easy cliché. Preparing for the World Cup with the world once again back at his feet.

Rose on USA Basketball: “I still have goals and being on this team is one of them. Coming out here and competing against these great guys and knowing how hard they work makes me push myself to another level. It’s an honor to be here and honor to play with these guys and I’m trying to take all this in. I’m really trying to make it. But if they decide to go another way or another direction, it’s no hard feelings or I wouldn’t feel mad about it. I’m just happy that I had the opportunity to come here and showcase my talent in front of everyone.”

Rose on the Bulls: “I think we have a contender. They were saying something about putting us on top of the East. We have a contending team. We know as a team what we’re trying to do. We all have one goal.”

Rose on confidence: “I sat out for two years. Of course, it’s hard. But at the same time, I know it’s a chance for me to work on my whole body. Get my legs strong. Get my upper body strong. Just take advantage of it. I’m happy that the Bulls really went after it and got Jen Swanson. She’s been doing a great job of making sure that I’m coming in every day and stretching and trying to get my flexibility right through my whole body. I’m there, man. I’m not worried about that. My confidence is very high. That’s the only thing you might see this year, that my confidence level is through the roof.”

Rose on fan and media critics: “I can’t get mad at that. People are going to say anything. For me, just try to take it in and use it when I work out, use it as motivation. Go out there and try to prove people wrong. I still have youth. I’m only 25, man. I’ve been preparing for this moment. Just with the second injury, of course, people are going to have stuff to say. But you can’t get mad at them. I got too many positives going my way. I got my son. I got my family. Of course, I had a second injury but rehab took care of that. Just trying to put all that behind me and today is another day.”

Rose on Carmelo Anthony not coming to the Bulls: “I mean, who wouldn’t be disappointed? Of course. But at the same time, you can’t be mad at the decision he made. If you put yourself in that decision, that’s a hard decision. You got your family to think about. You got money to think about. Not to say you should think about money. But when you’re talking about millions and millions of dollars, you can’t just put that behind you. So I’m not mad with the decision that he made and I wish him nothing but the best. (I told him) that if he was to come that the game would be easy. I don’t know how easy but of course it would be easy. And that we wanted him. Just plain and simple, we wanted him to come. He decided to go somewhere else. But it’s no hard feelings.”

Rose on Pau Gasol and the offseason additions: “Great, great. When you think about Gasol, him winning championships and bringing that experience to our team and him being around our bigs like Joakim and them and talking to them and giving them advice? Like, c’mon, I think that’s all we needed. You add Aaron Brooks. You add Jimmy coming in all in the mix. So many people, McDermott. I think we’re going to be a strong contender.”

Rose on how his game will change: “Body control. I’m able to control my body better. More of using my speed, but being smarter with my speed, instead of just running wild out there. Just being smart. I’ve become a smarter player. I’m mad it took me seven years to learn it. I think you’ll see that next year, just trying to keep people off my body. Using a lot of floaters, using a lot of pullups, things like that, so that I won’t be touched as much. (But) if you’re right there I’m going to try to dunk. My legs are healthy. I’m not worried about injuring myself or anything. I’m just trying to do anything to win that game at that time.”

Rose on family life: “Basketball is my life. I can’t give up. I have a son who is looking up to me. When he gets older and realizes what was going on hopefully that will give him a little bit of motivation knowing I had to go through so much. I hope that pushes him to become a great individual. I think it (injuries) was a blessing in disguise. Most people in my profession don’t get the chance to be around their kid that much. So for me to be around my son as much as it was it was a blessing. I made sure I was seeing him every other day while I was working out. Just becoming a father figure. He knows who I am. He takes my mind off everything playing around, He’s a funny guy.”

Another openin’ of perhaps another fine show.

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