LAS VEGAS—If Monday’s love-fest surrounding Derrick Rose’s initial day of practice at USA Basketball’s training camp for the FIBA World Cup was more of an appreciation of the former league MVP’s return to the court after suffering a torn meniscus last November, then his performance Tuesday simply solidified that the point guard is on the right track.
In the portion of the five-on-five scrimmages the media was permitted to view, Rose looked dynamic and explosive, leading one impartial observer familiar with his game—and not a member of the media, so the person was allowed to view the entire session—to say, “I didn’t see it yesterday; maybe people were just happy to see him back on the court. But today, he looks like he’s back for real.”
That sentiment was echoed by others in attendance, including Rose’s peers.
“He looks explosive. Explosive and strong. He’s in good shape and I have not a single concern about his knee. I know you guys are all here because you want to see if hi sk knee’s working, but his knee is fine. He’s sat out for two years, basically. It’s going to take time to get the game rhythm,” ex-Bulls teammate Kyle Korver, another one of the hopefuls to make the squad, told CSNChicago.com. “Offensively, defensively, there’s a rhythm to the game and no matter how hard you work out, you can’t get it until you play five-on-five. What better place to play five-on-five than this, right here? So he looks great to me. His shot looks good. I assume as the week goes on, he’s just going to keep on getting stronger. But he looks fantastic.”
Fellow point guard John Wall added: “He’s been on the other side of me most of the time, but it’s good to see him moving like he has. I think he still has explosion. It might not be the same, but he’s playing with a lot of confidence, the same way he did before. So that’s the biggest key. I think you’ll kind of see it more when we scrimmage against each other or when they play on Friday [in a nationally-televised intra-squad scrimmage]. But you can tell he has that same edge, to prove something to everybody.”
Before getting up in arms by Wall’s comment, keep in mind that the Wizards floor general is younger than Rose and given his own athleticism, his idea of “explosion” are the highlight-reel dunks and acrobatic finishes Rose used to perform regularly, but at 25, after two major knee surgeries, has decided to cut down on to preserve his body in the future. That being said, USA Basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s positive tone about Rose’s play after Monday’s practice at UNLV’s Mendenhall Center continued Tuesday, as he emphasized that Rose, a veteran in the national team’s young group, has been a consistent performer thus far.
“Well, I just think he kept it at the same. It was at a high level yesterday and for him to play at that level, and then play at it again shows that he’s worked real hard. We’re very, very pleased because coming into the camp, you don’t know, no matter what and he’s responded,” Krzyzewski said. “He was phenomenal yesterday and he was today too. He hasn’t held anything back. The neat thing about today was that we went hard yesterday and we went hard today, and he hasn’t been in this environment and he was as good or better today.
“We want to give him the freedom to follow his instincts. Derrick has great instincts. You don’t want to play defense on him by making him just a half-court player and calling out plays. You still want to do part of that, but you also want to let him go. That’s what we’re trying to do. That’s what I told him: Don’t be perfect. Just play and follow your instincts. He wants to please so badly. I love Derrick. I loved coaching him in 2010. We have a great relationship. He’s been fabulous in these two days, which is a big pick-me-up for our squad,” the longtime Duke coach went on to say, before answering a question about whether Rose has taken a cautious approach. “ I haven’t seen that. He has gone after people. That ain’t happening. He has gone after everybody and he’s really gone hard. His movement on defense is spectacular. When we started practice yesterday, what he did defensively was like, ‘Whoa.’ It picked everybody up. You don’t play that type of defense in the NBA because you have to play 40 minutes and 100 games. But here, if you play 20 minutes, that’s a lot but you don’t have to play consecutively. So you can go to an extreme and that’s what he’s doing. He has great balance and strength. He is stronger and has better balance, and he’s shooting the ball great. I think he’s been absolutely terrific these first two days.
“Nothing that he does will ever surprise me. Look, he is one of the elite players and he’s a fabulous kid. Not a good kid. He’s a fabulous young man and team player. Sometimes he’s too hard on himself, I think.”
Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, an assistant for the national team, similarly gushed about his star point guard.
“I’m probably biased, but I thought he played well overall. He is making plays. He’s playing both sides of the ball. He’s not forcing things. He’s making the right decision. When he’s open and he should shoot, he shoots and when he’s not, he moves the ball. He’s running the team. He’s getting the team to get the ball up the floor quickly. Those are all big pluses. The biggest thing is the way he’s fitting in and he feels good,” Thibodeau said about Rose. “That’s why I think this is so good for him. The talent level that is here gives him a chance to measure himself and see where he is. He doesn’t have the burden of having to carry a load for a team. It’s just fit in. When you have all these great players, they’re all sacrificing their individual games for the greater good of the team. Because there’s so much scoring talent, they all share the ball and make plays for each other. That’s the way the game should be played.
“I think that’s the biggest challenge for him, just showing more patience and finding the rhythm of the game. When he does that, the game is easier. That’s the way we really want him to play. He has the benefit of having gone through coming back last year and I think he learned from that. I think he is better prepared this time around. His body looks great. He says he feels great. You just keep going day by day,” he continued. “It was such a positive experience for him in 2010. Once he was cleared, he thought it would be good for him to come back and get some rust off and see where he is. He practiced with the summer league. That went well. This is the next step. When you’ve been out for an extended period of time, I think it’s positive thing to come back in this setting.”
As for Rose himself, he was his typically even-keeled self when asked about how he’s fared in the two practices.
“I think both days were the same. I think I had one turnover both days and as a point guard, that’s the only thing I’m worrying about right now. Making sure that I’m pressuring the ball full-court and making sure turnovers are low. Making sure I’m getting guys the ball when they need it,” he explained. “Just trying to keep on improving. Just happy to be here, happy Team USA gave me a chance. Just trying to learn my guys so that we can get in a groove and I understand their tendencies when I’m playing with them.
“Practices are intense, which they should be and right now we’re just trying to compete, have fun, and at the same time come together so that if I do make the team, I’m just trying to get chemistry with these guys,” the Chicago native went on to say. “I can be more aggressive. I’m picking and choosing, just try to see what the game needs, just trying to play my game. When I first came into the league, people were wondering if I could score. On my team, I have to score. Here, I can be more of a point guard and really get guys in a groove, get them in a rhythm to shoot the ball, so my job is to play defense, push the ball up the court, get guys the ball and shoot open shots.”
Regarding his physical condition, Rose claimed he was no worse for the wear, a day after citing his stamina as something that needed to improve.
“Waking up not sore, that’s kind of good. I feel like a basketball player now. I’m happy to be here, happy that I’m getting the attention, but at the same time I know that I have a long journey, and just take it one day at a time,” he said. “I’ve been pushing myself in the offseason the whole time. We didn’t even scrimmage against the other USA team. We just played against the Select Team for 10 minutes, and [Coach K] called it, he called practice over. So I’m just trying to get off my feet, get rest, and come back fresh tomorrow.
Getting through these down days, that’s what’s going to make me a stronger player, I think. I can’t be down on it. Just like yesterday. Yesterday is in the past and today is now, too. I got to look forward to, ‘Okay, what do we have going tonight?’ I’ve got acupuncture, I’ve got to get a massage. Tomorrow, I’ve got practice and it starts all over again,” he continued, before being queried on whether the training camp would be more of a mental or physical test. “I think physical. Just seeing if I can hold up. I know I can, but just seeing how my body feels. Jen [Swanson, the Bulls’ director of athletic performance] is here. She’s been on my butt, just making sure how good I feel, making sure that I’m fine. I take my hat off to the Bulls, just calling me, checking on me, texting me and really just giving advice on how I’m playing. It’s all good advice and all good criticism.”