USA Basketball looking for Rose to bloom


Sep 8

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BARCELONA — The USA Basketball staff members had been talking about Derrick Rose. Yes, all the players, but there’s been this discussion about Rose’s game as the team plays its next round of 16 elimination game Tuesday against Slovenia.

They’ve been thrilled with the way Rose has pressured defensively, showing speed, aggression and quickness. But they have not seen it on the offensive end, where Rose was scoreless in Saturday’s victory over Mexico and is averaging 4.5 points per game on 21.6 percent shooting in the tournament. Though the USA has won its game by an average of more than 30 points per game.

But the opposition is expected to get more difficult, and Rose has seemed more an unused arrow in the USA’s roster quiver.

So Monday morning as the USA players were preparing to head over to the Palau Sant Jordi arena for practice, Krzyzewski stopped Rose.

“Hey, you’re from Chicago, man. Go!” Krzyzewski said jokingly.

Rose laughed. But after practice when Rose met with media, it seemed clear he’d gotten the message.

“Tomorrow is going to be a different game,” Rose said when asked, sigh, about his shooting, though at least there were no more health and knee questions. “I think I found it now. Just changed one little thing. But we’re winning, so I’m not worried about that.”

“What’d you change?” Rose was asked.

“You’ll see tomorrow.”

It’s something of a mixed message for Rose, who hears with USA Basketball that winning is the only thing, that it’s check your ego at the door, that it doesn’t matter who scores or who plays, that we all are in this together. One for all; all for one.

But, hey, about that four points per game, buddy?

One reason is the destination is coming clearer. Spain, the team, awaits and looks stronger than this USA team comprised primarily of inexperienced international players and with depth issues in the front court. The coaching and management brain trust with coach Mike Krzyzewski and managing director Jerry Colangelo are considering ways to counter the strengths of a team like Spain’s, assuming, of course, the USA gets through it’s games Tuesday and Thursday.

One way would be to have a higher scoring, more offensively aggressive Derrick Rose.

It’s been a patient Rose with this team, primarily because the questions were more about his health and conditioning and preparing himself for the upcoming NBA season and his future. But now that Rose seems to have passed all the health tests, there comes a kind of “What have you done for us lately” view. That Rose’s MVP-level offense might be a nice addition without former USA scoring stars like LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and Kobe Bryant, who are not in this tournament.

Of course, it wasn’t made easier with Rose coming off the bench, that message seeming like a push for stability, to work with younger big men, like DeMarcus Cousins, and get them going and not worry about yourself. OK, it’s a different week now.

“Everybody is getting mad because I’m not shooting the ball more,” Rose said with a laugh after practice. “That’s strange. I’m going to do exactly what the game tells me to do. The shots that I’m taking are open shots. I’m not forcing shots. That’s the way the game should be played. This is my role on this team. With the Bulls, of course I’m going to get up 20-25 shots. That’s not going to change anything. When you come in the game and you’re up 15 or 20 points, everybody’s open (so the passes are there). Tomorrow, I (am) going to try to shoot more balls, but (also) play my normal role. I don’t know why people are so… I don’t know how to put it.”

Surprised, perhaps?

It’s the blessing and curse, in a sense, of being a former league Most Valuable Player.

“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded?

“The year that I won MVP, people didn’t expect me to win MVP,” Rose noted accurately, and it did come right after Rose averaged barely six points for the 2010 gold medal USA team. “No one in the world expected that. And I went out and still won it. My confidence is still high. It’s just making the game easy for myself. I try not to force things. When I tend to force things, like I did when I came back (from ACL surgery last year), I just didn’t look right forcing anything. I was shooting up the shots to get in condition. I was missing a lot of those shots because I wasn’t in condition. Here, I feel like I’m in good shape. Just keep knocking this rust off and then when the season comes, I’m going to be in condition to take 20-25 shots. It was the same thing, like, ‘Why aren’t you making any shots now?’ You know what I mean.”

But the staff wouldn’t mind seeing Rose speed that process up a bit now.

“I think this has been great for him to be out here playing and really being involved in the game,” said Colangelo. “This is the kind of stuff after all the time he’s been off competitively what the doctor ordered. It appears to me… I’m still waiting for a little bust out for him. I was hopeful of that happening so far.

“Maybe it’s still to come in these next three games,” Colengelo added. “If he can have some real success in the game, bang, bang, bang, that’s going to get him over that little hump. Everyone’s mind is a little bit different. You can understand possibly that in the back of his mind he’s a little concerned (about his health), maybe. I don’t really know that. He says all the right things. If he just continues to make progress he’s going to be fine. Selfishly, I would like to see him come out of it, not say come out of it, but take that next step while we are still here.

“We all want him to not be as hesitant,” said Colangelo. “Be Derrick. In some ways when he was at his best, he was playing with reckless abandon. He’s playing conservatively offensively right now. The best thing would be for him to bust out. For himself now and going forward into the season and for us. It’s almost like something is holding him back from going full throttle because that’s when he’s at his best. He’s playing, he’s contributing; he’s on his way back to the NBA season and the Bulls. There’s a lot everyone is anticipating. You couldn’t have asked for a better springboard for him for the NBA season in this comeback in these weeks with USA basketball. (He) could be a difference maker (for USA Basketball) before it’s all over.”

Krzyzewski added that he sympathizes with Rose’s conundrum, that he’s put him into games often with the USA with a big lead and with players looking to get involved inside, like Cousins. So Rose, who always is anxious to please, tries to hew toward the game plan: Keep the lead, get the big guys involved, defend.

But with Slovenia led by Goran Dragic and the USA looking ahead to Spain and without high scorer Durant, even if no one on the USA staff publicly acknowledges it, Krzyzewski is planting his motivational seed. Krzyzewski hasn’t had a player truly step into that offensive role here of carrying the offense. Perhaps it can be Rose before it is too late.

“A lot of time when he is in the game we have a lead,” noted Krzyzewski about Rose coming off the bench and just playing four minutes in the first half Saturday. “I think he’s trying to get everyone else involved and he looks for his stuff not just fifth sometimes, but sixth or seventh on the court. We need him to look at it like he’s one or two on the court. When he’s making a play, look to make plays for people, but try to make plays for yourself, too.

“He’s being very unselfish, trying to be a good teammate,” Krzyzewski said. “It all comes from a good place. (But) I’d like to see him go off. His play is very important for us having an opportunity to beat Slovenia and advance. Derrick is obviously a great guy. We need him to be Derrick, the player. He’s close in all the spots, but his focus isn’t on him offensively. I don’t think he became the great player he was having that mindset. Hopefully, he’ll have the mindset we want him to. Sometimes (he’s), ‘They don’t need me to do that.’ And we’re trying to tell him ‘Yeah, we do need you to do that.’ But then when we’ve been winning so big our argument may fall on deaf ears a little bit. But we need him to do it.”

Rose does try to please, though there always are with top athletes many voices competing for attention. Krzyzewski offered one above the din Monday. Is it time for a breakout?

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