Derrick Rose considers his long journey


Sep 13

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MADRID—Just one game left for USA Basketball in the FIBA Basketball World Cup, Sunday here against Serbia for the gold medal. But for Derrick Rose, not that the championship isn’t foremost on his mind, because it is. But he’s won, already, won big the way Rose has come through this grueling seven weeks strong, healthy and confident.

The enormity of the task, of what he’s gone through these last 29 months since he shattered his anterior cruciate ligament, seemed to overwhelm Rose as he spoke to reporters after the USA team’s final full practice in Spain.

“I think that, I think I did great,” Rose said, his voice breaking in talking about this tournament, but obviously his mind racing back over the months and months and months of painful rehabilitation, the starts and stops of a return, the second guessing and even condemnation. “I think I can go into training camp with a positive mind, and I know that I’m headed in the right direction.

“There have been days where I didn’t want to do training,” Rose conceded. “I knew training was going to be very hard. That’s when I would say the doubts came in, like, ‘OK, I don’t want to do it. But I know in the long run it’s going to help me.’ But as far as my talent and getting back to an elite level, I always had that inner confidence. Even though I don’t show it like that, I always know that I’m one of the best in the world.

“I think I accomplished everything I wanted to accomplish but win this championship. And that’s tomorrow,” said Rose. “After that is the icing on the cake. Looking back at it, my whole mindset was just getting on the team. You had younger players who had great years since I’ve been out. Great guards who had great years. Just trying to show them that I’m still one of the best out there. I think I was going into (USA Basketball) camp with a chip on my shoulder. Coming here and playing on this team, actually making the team, my whole role has changed where I really don’t have to score. I score here and there. It’s really just playing team basketball, working on conditioning, and seeing what the game needs. I’m happy to be here.

“I think everybody was worried but myself (about missing a few practices and an exhibition game in New York),” Rose said. “I wasn’t worried at all. I already knew that I was going to be healthy enough to play in all the games I played in, even the back-to-back-to-back games. I knew that I was going to be all right. But you know how the media is. Once you miss a day or a practice, they’re going to blow it out of proportion. If anything, I just stayed positive, got the best out of every day and tried to become a pro and get my routine.”

“What kept you confident during that time?” Rose was asked

“Knowing I’m one of the best players in the world,” Rose said with a long pause.

“Just simply that? Just seeing yourself playing against good competition?” he was asked.

“Just knowing. Knowing…”

These kinds of journeys never truly end, and every road threatens some sort of bump or detour. As it will for Derrick Rose as well. But making the USA team after basically missing two full NBA seasons was truly an accomplishment given the emergence of, as Rose noted, talented guards like Kyrie Irving, John Wall, Damian Lillard, Mike Conley and Jeff Teague. Then coming through the grind of games—even if it’s against overmatched competition because it’s still all professional players and many from the NBA—that was five in six days and three straight. And showing the speed, the athletic explosion, the retreat on defense with the sharp side to side moves and back pedaling demonstrated an excellence that remains, that’s there as much as ther once was. Not making shots? You can correct and improve upon that. You cannot recreate athletic ability, that internal fire for the game.

Rose knew he had it, believed it was there. But how could he even know for sure?

Now he knows; now everyone knows. We’ve seen it; he’s seen it.

Being back has become a tired cliché and yet another phrase introduced to sports by Michael Jordan’s presence. For Rose it’s not back, but going forward. It’s all there; it’s time.

First there’s one more big day on the business trip, a 2:00 p.m. Chicago time Sunday game (ESPN2) against Serbia, which was a surprise winner over France to reach the final game. France had previously upset heavily favored Spain, which suggests, despite the notion of USA invincibility now with home team Spain defeated, that the USA way is clear to the gold medal. Certainly the USA is favored, but USA assistant Tom Thibodeau and coach Mike Krzyzewski were certainly busy reminding everyone this was no time to skip steps.

“Anyone who thinks they are unbeatable is going to get beat,” warned Krzyzewski. “We have a very good team and we are going to play against a very good team. They are older than we are, they’ve been together longer than we have. I hope we’re unbeatable tomorrow night, but we go into the game never having that mindset.

“I think our country should be proud of this team and hopefully they’ll be even more proud if we win,” said Krzyzewski. “But they should be proud of our team because they have represented our country really well. In everything: How they’ve handled themselves, how they’ve played, just everything. I haven’t had even remotely a problem with these guys. They’ve been terrific and a number of them never even felt they’d be on the team. I just hope we play our best tomorrow. When I judge the teams I’ve coached, I say ‘Are they worthy of winning?’ You can be worthy of winning and not win. Usually if you are worthy of winning you have a much better chance of winning. And this team is worthy of winning. Whether they will or not, we’ll see if the basketball gods allow that to happen.”

Rose added a little breakdown of his own of the USA pattern of halting starts and strong finishes.

“Our guards do a great job of penetrating and having confidence to score the ball. And it should be a great game for people to watch,” said Rose. “In the beginning of games, of course you want to get teams out of the way. But we always find ourselves putting teams away in the second (half). Would we like to start off quicker? Yes, but at the same time we know we try at the beginning. (Opponents) come out hot. There are emotions involved. They come out and play hard. We can’t put them away that quick. But in the second half, I think we wear on people and the subs the coaching staff make bring different types of speeds and groups. So we just wear them down.

“(We’re) far away from the Dream Team,” laughed Rose. “We’re so far (away) it’s no comparison between us and the Dream Team. We have our own identity. We have young players trying to get their identity in the league, happy to be on this team. So we’re just trying to go out there and play hard, dedicate ourselves to getting rest tonight because it’s going to be a hard game tomorrow.

“With (Serbia) you have to pick your poison,” said Rose. “If you play fast, they get an opportunity to rebound and take it the other way. They have great shooters on their team. It’s going to be a challenge for us. We haven’t played a team like that (in the tournament).”

If it’s gold, which Rose won on the 2010 team, it goes in his mom’s basement.

“The little shrine downstairs?” Rose said with a laugh. “I think she has it out. Everything else down there is framed, all the jerseys that I played in, All-Star games that I played in. Ever since I was in high school to now, she has so much framed in her basement. Getting a gold medal, period, is an honor. It’s an achievement, an accolade. I’m just happy to be here. This is like my fourth or fifth time being here in Madrid. I’ve been here a couple times with adidas and the USA team. To actually play the championship game here is going to mean a lot because fans here are really excited about basketball and sport period. And we’re playing against a great team.

“When I look back at it, what grade would I give it?” Rose repeated when asked. “I would give it an A in my mind. Just coming off what I had to go through and actually getting a spot on the USA team after missing two years of basketball? Like, c’mon man. If anything, it gives me more confidence to head into the regular season. I think I’m going to be far ahead of people, especially on my team (coming into training camp next month). Nobody in the world is getting this type of competition right now, where you’re playing against different people every night, a different style of play every night, chasing people around. The game is more physical. If anything, it will help me because in the league they call a lot more fouls than here.

“I think,” said Rose, ‘this year will be the best year I’ve ever been in condition.”

Blue skies, nothing but blue skies.

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