Besides a few spectacular moments—a beautiful crossover and driving left-handed layup, going end to end with 4.6 seconds left in the second quarter to beat the halftime buzzer—Derrick Rose’s first game at the United Center since November of 2013, a 95-78 Team USA exhibition-game win over Brazil, was fairly pedestrian. But forget the seven-point outing and his fair share of miscues, including a missed wide-open breakaway dunk: Rose back on the court in Chicago, giving his hometown crowd a reason to celebrate was a victory in itself.
“Oh yeah, I think everybody was excited. It was cool, but at the same time, I can’t get big-headed about it or anything like that. I’ve just got to keep poised,” explained Rose, who finished with seven points on 2-for-5 shooting, four rebounds, two assists, three turnovers and a steal and blocked shot apiece. “When I was out there, they 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.
“You know here in Chicago, it’s kind of like basketball is everything. You know 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. [the New York Knicks guard and son of the Chicago native by the same name], all the players that were in town, they made an appearance to come up here and show their face. They love the game,” he went on to say. “Man, it’s the whole entire night. I probably won’t get any sleep tonight. I’m exited, man, 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.”
Rose also addressed the crowd before the game and as the Englewood product and Simeon Career Academy graduate has frequently done as of late, discussed the violence occurring in Chicago.
“That was huge, man. I was surprised I didn’t get nervous up there,” he said. “Just being up there, actually just being in Chicago and bringing some life and some positivity to the city is huge.
“It means a lot. 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. 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’ve got too much time on their hands.”
[RELATED: Team USA pulls away late to beat Brazil]
As far as his actual game, Rose said he continued his trend of not trying to force the issue in his playmaking-oriented role.
“I felt good. I wasn’t trying to rush anything. I was playing basketball like I’ve been playing these past couple of weeks during tryouts. Playing hard on defense and just taking shots when I have shots and letting the game come to me,” Rose observed. “For me individually, it’s playing under control and shooting the right shots. It’s no need for me to force any shots with all the offensive threats that we have on our team. I don’t have to shoot not one shot. But just being prepared to shoot those shots whenever I have the opportunity.”
Conditioning has been an issue Rose has harped upon since Team USA’s training camp began in Las Vegas in late July, but the point guard believes his stamina is improving, despite the increasing grueling schedule.
“It’s piling up, but I’m used to it by now. I think I’m a pro, professional now. I’m learning how to take care of my body a little bit more, preparing myself, like I’ve been preparing for this a couple of weeks ago, and just trying to really eat right and get rest, get off of my feet because in New York, we have two important games. And when we’re overseas, we have like three games or five games in some crazy nights. I don’t know the number of nights, but we’re playing three games back-to-back, so just got to make sure we’re prepared for it as a team,” the former league MVP said. “I’ve been preparing for this for a long time. 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.
“That’s a process. I’m building it every day. Of course it’s the last thing I’m waiting on. Playing against players like we just played against will help me get my wind back even quicker. Just keep going hard in practice and pushing myself every day so it comes a little bit faster,” continued Rose, who played the entire third quarter, though he apparently wasn’t aware of the fact until informed by the media. “Oh, I did? I didn’t notice that. But it felt good. I was, of course, winded when you reach probably four or five minutes. But just playing through it every day, going to practice, playing hard, doing little things like conditioning your legs on the bike at home, just trying to do anything to get better as an athlete.”
But all of those details had no impact on the reception he received from the United Center crowd, which cheered him simply for stepping onto the floor for pre-game warm-ups and chanted, “We Want Rose,” in the fourth quarter, coincidentally just before the 25-year-old was reinserted into the contest with 5:20 remaining in the game.“I thought I was done until Coach K came over and told me I had to go back in. It was fun. I wanted to go back out there,” said Rose, who suffered a minor facial cut in the first half, but didn’t need stitches. “The group that was out there already did a great job of pushing the ball and getting the lead and playing defense. We got a bunch of steals in a row and that changed the game. When I came back in, I just tried to stay the same. Keep poised and play hard.”
For his part, USA Basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski insisted the fans didn’t prompt his decision.
“Yeah, I didn’t react to the fans. I would never do that. I wanted to see if he could play beyond,” the Chicago native said. “You know one of the things about bringing a guy back is that if you keep on his minutes you keep a lid on him and he has to learn to play tired, and again we wanted to see that. He did pretty good.’’
Krzyzewski added: “Tom [Thibodeau, his Team USA assistant coach] can talk about his progress, he coaches him. I wish I coached him. [Thibodeau’s] a lucky guy. He coaches in Chicago, coaches Derrick Rose, lives downtown, I don’t know how it could be any better. Derrick has been magnificent since we started training camp and really one of the greatest guys in the whole world. I’m ecstatic for him. I mean his [basket] at the end of the half really gave us some momentum, and we started the second half that way, too, and I think it was a result of that play."
Of the coast-to-coast drive, Rose said, “Coach K—the first play, it was actually four seconds left—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 [Harden] 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.”
Rose also elaborated on his crossover-and-layup sequence: “I just read how he was defending me when I came off the pick. 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.”
"It was just a play. I guess people want me to do it every time. I just saw an opening and went for it. How I felt? 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."
Thibodeau, also the Bulls head coach, was satisfied with his star player’s performance.
“For Derrick it’s a step-by-step process. He’s steadily getting better and I think this experience, this is the perfect setting for him. I thought his first experience in 2010 was really the springboard to his MVP season, and it was really positive for him. I know how important it is to him. All summer long I think he’s gotten more comfortable. I think 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 his game, and he’s playing to his strengths. He’s 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 showed great patience. He’s still shaking some rust off. His explosiveness is back, he’s playing well on both sides of the ball. I think he’s in a really good place. I think he’s prepared himself extremely well. It’s unfortunate what he’s gone through, but that adversity has made him a lot stronger, and I see a growth for him. I love where he is mentally and physically right now,” the coach said.
“I think for him these are all positives. When he was deciding to play, it was something he really wanted to do and it’s a chance for him to measure where he is. I think the quality of depth on the team is very beneficial to him. He’s not carrying the burden of the entire team, and the one thing I say about all our guys is I think they’ve embraced their roles. That’s something that’s a big part of the tradition of this team. We’re asking some guys to come off the bench that have been starters their whole careers. Some guys that have been big scorers to sacrifice their shots. And for Derrick, I just think there are so many positives for this. He shakes the rust off, he has a tremendous amount of pride, it’s something he wants to do, and he believes that he should so. So it’s all good. And I think it will be great preparation for the season. We know we’ve got a baseline and we know there’s a long way up, but I think his attitude and approach are terrific. I think that’s going to serve him well for where he is right now.”