LAS VEGAS—With a towel over his head to shield his face, it appeared that the scene was all too real for Derrick Rose, as well as the 19 other players on the court and the crowd Friday night at UNLV’s Thomas and Mack Center.
Early in the fourth quarter of USA Basketball’s Blue vs. White Showcase exhibition game, Pacers All-Star swingman Paul George, considered a lock to make Team USA’s FIBA World Cup squad, suffered a gruesome leg injury. George crashed into the basket stanchion and his right leg buckled in horrifying fashion, causing the somewhat festive atmosphere to seem more like a mausoleum.
Fans grew silent and players looked emotional on the court, so when USA Basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski announced that intra-squad scrimmage would end prematurely, it felt like a relief.
“This is a very tough blow. Not so much about us, but about Paul. It’s a first for us in USA Basketball to have something like this take place. It’s a tough situation for our entire organization. Our coaches, our players are very emotional. There’s no way the game could have gone on under the circumstances and so, I want to save some questions really addressing what our plans were and what our plans are. We need to really just take a step back before we do anything at all,” said USA Basketball executive director Jerry Colangelo, at a postgame press conference that only he and Krzyzewski attended, with players being unavailable for comment afterward. “Our first concern, our primary concern, is Paul George. I want to reach out to the Indiana Pacers organization. We have a call out to owner Herb Simon. This is a tough blow for not only USA Basketball, but for the Indiana Pacers and so, as an organization, we’re just going to let a little bit of time go by here before we address rosters and all of that stuff. It seems so unimportant in the big scheme of things. When you have something like this take place, it puts things in perspective.”
Krzyzewski said that Team USA’s coaching staff, which includes Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, sought to immediately calm down George’s fellow national-team hopefuls, who were understandably emotional at seeing one of the NBA’s top young stars go down in such a gut-wrenching manner.
“Well, the main thing is just concern for Paul and we, as a coaching staff, just told them to relax, and we felt at that point, we should not go forward and not to worry about playing again,” the longtime Duke University coach explained. “Look, anything can happen, anywhere. A lot of things happen and tonight it happened during a basketball game, and we need to take care of that. It doesn’t mean it’ll happen again, and again and again. It means that it happened right now and we need to take care of right now appropriately, and then move on.
“We gathered all of the players together. Jerry addressed them and then I did. Very emotional setting. There’s a brotherhood in the NBA. To me, in moments like this, a family or a brotherhood shows its heart and its depth, and I thought that’s what our players showed at that time,” the Chicago native continued. “It wasn’t about saying anything at that time. We focused on prayer and thinking about Paul George. It wasn’t a time to have a discussion.”
With USA Basketball’s first exhibition game against another country taking place Aug. 16 at the United Center in Chicago, the governing body has time to regroup before making decisions about roster changes and things of that nature. But also in the interim, there will undoubtedly be discussion between players, agents and NBA teams about player safety with the upcoming regular season only four months away and training camps opening in less than three months.
“I haven’t had time to think about anything, quite honestly, except Paul. So ramifications and all that stuff is for another time. That’s why we both said we need to step back. Why speculate on ifs?” Colangelo said. “No decisions for a while, so I appreciate no calls [from the media] like, ‘Are you going to make the decision today?’ When we’re ready to make the decision, you’ll be notified, all of you. We just need to step away.”
Echoed Krzyzewski: “No decisions will be made [Saturday, the day the roster was expected to be trimmed to 15 players].
“Everything’s on hold right now and it should be,” the coach added. “It would be so inappropriate for us to talk about anything else when there’s a serious injury like this.”
It wouldn’t be surprising, however, if players such as Rose, who has suffered two significant injuries in action with the Bulls, opted to pull out of forthcoming international competition, especially with so many other stars declining invitations to training camp in Las Vegas. As far as the injury itself, it’s easy to guess, but no medical prognosis was known at the time.
“We don’t really know. Again, now we’re speculating. We don’t know exactly. I mean, everyone saw what we saw,” Colangelo said. “But that’s for the medical team to decide, determine and then make the announcement as to what it is and what’s going to take place. We want to know as well as you do.”
Krzyzewski chimed in: “His dad was right with him and then his mom came down. I felt that the medical people were right there and in control. He appeared, like stoic, and we allowed his father to touch him and to comfort him, and I thought our trainers did a great job right away in making sure emotionally he was as good as possible. But Paul reacted well.”