Rose is born again with the USA (Basketball)


Aug 17

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Derrick Rose had a crossover move with a drive and switch hands lefty layup that should have been a painting hanging in a Louvre. He had a full court drive that had Usain Bolt thinking of withdrawing from competitive racing. He also missed a two-handed slam dunk with no one nearer than Sacramento Avenue and threw a jump pass off the back of the backboard that almost took down a drone.

“I’ve been preparing for this for a long time,” said Rose in making his first United Center appearance since last November. “If this was a couple of weeks ago, I probably would’ve been emotional. But right now, it feels great. We won the game. That’s the only thing I could be happy about. If we would’ve lost, my whole attitude would’ve been different. Just take this win, go to New York tomorrow and try to keep this going.”

It’s USA Basketball and its quest for the gold medal in the FIBA World Cup of Basketball, which begins later this month in Spain and qualifies the winners for the 2016 Olympics.

“I know that it’s basketball, but what’s going on here is bigger than basketball and bigger than one person trying to do something,” Rose said after the game.

“I know that it’s basketball, but what’s going on here is bigger than basketball and bigger than one person trying to do something,” Rose said after the game.

But Saturday at the United Center, the first exhibition game for the U.S. national team was the subordinate happening compared to Rose’s return to the basketball court. It was greeted wildly and enthusiastically by a huge crowd for an exhibition, which the USA team, by the way, won 95-78 by pulling away from a five-point game early in the fourth quarter.

Fellow Chicagoan Anthony Davis from Perspectives Charter High School and the New Orleans Pelicans was the star of the game with 20 points, eight rebounds, five blocks, a full gainer dive into the stands for a loose ball and a half dozen followups and dunks that symbolized a USA effort of aggressive defense and offensive activity that will be their tournament game plan.

“Ant played great,” said Rose. “That’s what we need, blocking shots, rebounding, diving for the ball out of bounds. We didn’t know how he was going to play with the bigs they have because he’s kind of smaller than they are weight wise. But he came out here and hooped.”

But if Davis was the leading man on the court who stole the momentum away from the Brazilian team, it was Rose who stole the hearts of the partisan home crowd which opened the evening chanting “MVP” for Rose and closed two hours later urging coach Mike Krzyzewski to return to Rose to the game even though Rose had played the entire third quarter and would be third in minutes for the U.S. team.

“I didn’t react to the crowd. I never would do that,” a lighthearted Krzyzewski said with a laugh. “I wanted to see if he could play beyond… One of the things about bringing a guy back, he needs to learn how to play tired. We wanted to see that and he did pretty good.

“Tom (Bulls coach Thibodeau) can talk about his progress,” Krzyzewski added about Rose. “He coaches him. I wish I could coach him. He’s (Thibodeau) a lucky guy. Coaches in Chicago, coaches Derrick Rose, lives downtown; how could it be any better? Derrick’s been magnificent since we started training camp. He never has held back and he really is one of the greatest guys in the whole world. I’m ecstatic for him. And his play at the end of the half where he gave us some momentum and we started the second half, too, (6-0), I think was as a result of that play.”

That play, a full court burst out of the blocks with 4.6 seconds left for a layup to close the first half and give the USA a 45-37 lead was one of Rose’s better offensive moments. He didn’t have all that many with seven points, four rebounds, three turnovers, two assists, a steal and a block. But he played easily and aggressively, and it was plenty for a rollicking United Center audience rising and falling in emotion even as Rose merely dribbled the ball.

“I’m used to people cheering, so I didn’t let it get to me or anything like that. It was just me playing the way that I normally play,” said Rose. “That (positive fan response) was huge. I was surprised I didn’t get nervous up there (for a pregame address to the fans). Going to all these adidas events and appearances has helped me talk in front of people. Just being up there, actually just being in Chicago and bringing some life and some positivity to the city is huge for adidas and for USA Basketball. I want to thank Nike for giving us this event here in Chicago. Yeah. When I was out there, (I knew the fans) wanted me to shoot every ball. But I’m playing the way that I normally play in the tryouts, push the ball, play defense and get guys shots. When a shot is available, take the shot. I think that’s what I did tonight. I had one or two turnovers but that can be easily changed.

“I probably won’t get any sleep tonight,” Rose admitted of the emotional evening. “I’m exited for the city. This is huge for us. We haven’t had an event like this in a long time. Or this is the first event like this here in Chicago, basketball wise, and I know everybody’s excited; everybody’s happy that we came here and played, and we won. So I think tonight was a positive.”

"He’s shaking some rust off, but his explosiveness is back," said Thibodeau of Rose. "He’s playing well on both sides of the ball. I think he’s in a really good place. It’s unfortunate what he’s gone through. But I think that adversity has made him a lot stronger."

“He’s shaking some rust off, but his explosiveness is back,” said Thibodeau of Rose. “He’s playing well on both sides of the ball. I think he’s in a really good place. It’s unfortunate what he’s gone through. But I think that adversity has made him a lot stronger.”

It obviously was positive for USA Basketball in seeing its aggressive style working against a good Brazil team with three quality NBA big men, Nene, Tiago Splitter and Anderson Varejao. If there’s a weakness for this relatively inexperienced USA team it is size. But the team showed with pressuring defense, activity and timely if not great shooting it could overcome the size disadvantage.

Davis was impressive. James Harden added 18 points, and though he tends to hold the ball too much, he gets to the basket with aggressive drives and was 10 of 10 from the free throw line. The USA team started Rose, Harden, Davis, Kenneth Faried and Stephen Curry, which looks like their starting team for the tournament. Faried had tremendous activity to offset the size disadvantage. Mason Plumlee off the bench also displayed that sort of activity and is the kind of big man Krzyzewski seems to want for this team, quick and athletic. Curry, as usual, shot the ball impressively early and backcourt mate Klay Thompson defended heartily. The USA team will play two exhibitions in New York next week and then likely make some cuts before leaving for Spain.

Though it was an especially positive night for Rose even beyond yet another basketball comeback, looking physically well if not fully basketball ready. Rose also continued to find his voice as not only a leader on the court but in the community as he again took up the cause of wanton violence in Chicago in pregame welcoming remarks, emphasizing to the fans the wanton loss of life that’s bigger than any of the basketball and must be challenged.

“I know that it’s basketball, but what’s going on here is bigger than basketball and bigger than one person trying to do something,” Rose said after the game. “It’s kind of messed up because it’s kind of like a system. But the only way we can change it is if all of us change it and people change their mindsets and try to keep busy. They got too much time on their hands.”

Rose and the USA team do not have time, either, with a furious schedule of games in the next month. But Rose says he is ready, and his coach, Thibodeau, was passionate in his excitement for Rose.

“This is the perfect setting for him,” enthused Thibodeau. “I thought his first (USA team) experience in 2010 was the springboard to his MVP season. All summer long he’s gotten more comfortable. He went through the comeback last year and I think he learned a lot from it. I love the way he’s playing. He’s finding the rhythm of game and playing to his strengths and recognizing who’s on the floor with him and what their strengths are. He made several good plays, particularly against the zone in the fourth quarter. He’s shaking some rust off, but his explosiveness is back. He’s playing well on both sides of the ball. I think he’s in a really good place. It’s unfortunate what he’s gone through. But I think that adversity has made him a lot stronger. It was really seeds of growth for him. I love where he is mentally and physically right now.

“It’s something he really wanted to do,” Thibodeau said of the USA experience for Rose. “It’s a chance for him to measure where he really is. He’s not carrying the burden of the entire team. For Derrick, there are so many positives. I think this will be great preparation for the season. We have a baseline and we know there’s a long way up. His attitude and approach are terrific and I think that will serve him well. I’m very pleased where he is now.”

It also appears to be a warm and embracing experience for Thibodeau with the tested Krzyzewski. Thibodeau, who is generally a bundle of raw nerves and energy on the bench, sat serenely during the game, or, at least, what passes for placid for him. And afterward as they had a joint media conference, Krzyzewski jabbed Thibodeau a bit when Krzyzewski was asked about starting Davis.

"Derrick’s been magnificent since we started training camp," said Coach K of Rose. "He never has held back and he really is one of the greatest guys in the whole world. I’m ecstatic for him."

“Derrick’s been magnificent since we started training camp,” said Coach K of Rose. “He never has held back and he really is one of the greatest guys in the whole world. I’m ecstatic for him.”

“I would have been a complete idiot if he wasn’t in the starting lineup,” Krzyzewski laughed. “He’s one of the best players in the NBA. Anthony Davis is terrific. Even if Tom didn’t want to start him. (Tom) wanted to play zone and not put on pressure.”

Thibodeau laughed.

“Anthony is one of the emerging stars,” Krzyzewski continued. “We hope what happened to a lot of those guys in 2010 will happen to them, launches what should be a storied career for him. Another great guy. You talk about two Chicago guys, he and Derrick, the best guys, easy to coach, team guys. Dreams to coach; both those guys are dreams to coach.”

It’s one thing to lead USA teams to three gold medals. But Krzyzewski has Thibodeau laughing and accepting mocking praise. Now that’s coaching.

It was an effort for the USA team worth plenty of praise with a fast start for a 29-15 lead after one quarter, reduced to 35-33 late in the second quarter and 45-37 at halftime after Rose’s darting drive.

“It was actually four seconds left,” said Rose. “I thought he was just going to sit me out, but he called me in and just told me just to play. Just take the ball and see how far I could go with it. I thought James was actually going to have a shot on it from someone helping, but no one helped, so I had a clear lane for a floater.”

The USA team was squeezed again in the third, leading 68-63 after three. They are aggressive defending the perimeter and using Thibodeau’s defense in driving the pick and roll to the baseline. But the weak side help, which takes time, was often late and led to several easy scores for the Brazil big men, something the USA team will try to remedy.

But they broke it open to start the fourth with a Thompson three Krzyzewski called the game’s biggest shot and then a flurry of spectacular plays from Davis with a block leading to a three-on-one break, a lob slam dunk on a pass from Kyrie Irving and Davis’ own 20 footer and a put back that shot the USA team ahead 87-68 midway through the fourth quarter as they eased to the win.

Earlier in the first half, Rose had a steal and then missed an open two-handed slam dunk, just as he did during one of the Chicago training sessions, though the leaping was there.

“My second missed dunk,” Rose said with a laugh. “I missed one in practice. I just got to get used to the ball (a lighter FIBA ball) and holding it a different way when I dunk.”

The expectant crowd was ready to deliver for Rose with that one. But he didn’t disappoint later in the third quarter when he crossed over his defender on the left wing and then blew into the lane and finished left handed with a layup score that sent the United Center spectators into spasms of delight.

“I just read how he was defending me when I came off the pick,” explained Rose. “It looked like he was confused and I saw that his feet were kind of, he didn’t have control of his feet a little bit. I look at all of those things as an offensive player and the big was kind of all the way on the other side of the lane. So when I came off, it’s kind of like I had the whole lane to myself.”

There were two bigs converging, which was why Rose had to change hands to finish. But yet another positive sign of Rose returning to his previous levels is he didn’t even think they’d be problems.

“You know here in Chicago, it’s kind of like basketball is everything,” said Rose. “You go down South, football is everything. But here, you can go to a high school game and won’t be able to get in because it’s so packed. So for this event to be here, you saw Jabari (Parker), young players, Tim Hardaway Jr., all the players that were in town. They made an appearance to come up here and show their face. They love the game.”

And it’s a much better game with Derrick Rose back playing it like this. The fun apparently is just beginning.

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