Having suffered two devastating in-game injuries of his own, witnessing USA Basketball teammate Paul George’s compound fracture during Team USA’s Blue-White intrasquad scrimmage in Las Vegas wasn’t easy for Derrick Rose, though the Bulls point guard has moved on from the gruesome incident and is now focused on the upcoming FIBA World Cup, which is preceded by Saturday night’s exhibition game against Brazil at the United Center.
“The week off that we had after what we saw happened to Paul, it kind of calmed it down a little bit because right afterwards it was kind of devastating because you put yourself in that situation where, ‘Damn, that could have been me.’ Now that he’s had surgery and it seems like he’s recovering right, our goal is to come out here and just compete for our country,” Rose said after Thursday’s practice in Chicago. “At first I didn’t know what was going on until I heard the players. I didn’t actually see the play, and I still haven’t seen it because I don’t want to. But just knowing that it’s going to be a long journey. I hope his family, everybody is close to him because he’s going to need everyone. The season is right ahead, and he’s going to have to stay focused with his rehab and try to get back on the court as quick as possible. But during the season I’m going to try and hit him up, but I haven’t hit him up yet.
“My first thing was get away from the scene because I didn’t want to see it at first. It was too gruesome. Stuff like that turns my stomach. Afterwards, just praying for him. It was kind of devastating because you never want that to happen to anyone, especially a star player that has so much going for him. Just signed his contract, up-and-coming star, really making a name for himself. For that to happen, it’s kind of messed up. You wish that on no one. The only thing we can do is pray for him. And like I said, during the season, when everything is still going, I’m going to try to hit him up as much as possible and just let him know I’m thinking about him,” the former league MVP went on to say about George, the Indiana Pacers’ All-Star small forward. “I have no fears. I have faith. I know that I’m going to be fine. I know that I busted my ass the entire two summers. You can say two seasons to get back to where I am right now. And just try and keep it moving, stay positive every day, do everything consistent like I’ve been doing. Doing the consistent work when I come in, stretching, seeing Jen (Swanson, the Bulls’ director of athletic performance), talking to Jen, just getting my mind clear before I step out on the floor. I’m doing everything that Coach K and them want me to do, and I think everything will go my way.”
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The Chicago native is excited to be playing in the United Center for the first time since November 2013, but is also optimistic about the effect of Team USA being in his troubled hometown.
“Fun. It’s going to feel like a pro-am game a little bit. Everyone has been talking about it in the city. It seems like it’s a buzz. It’s great what USA Basketball and Nike has been doing around the city, just keeping kids occupied, keeping people occupied, getting them something to do. I think it’s going to help the city, and it should bring some hype to the city,” Rose explained. “It’s kind of hard. It’s different. In Vegas, I usually go back to my room. But being here, in my hometown, you’re going to stay out a little bit more, going to see a little bit more. But my goal is to stay off my feet. I’m happy to be in the city, it’s good weather right now and the city needs this right now.
“I think it’s going to be encouraging for the kids, all the little hoopers that’s coming back from school and actually playing in pro-ams now and that’s in high school and get a chance to come out to the game. I think that’s their first time really actually seeing the European game. It’s going to be very physical. It’s kind of crazy because when they come over here they play kind of like soft. But over there in their league it’s really physical. It should give them a little bit of motivation to go in the gym and work a little harder to be in our position today,” he continued. “I appreciate even more, even just being in the city. Being here the entire summer, not going home, just seeing how crazy the city is right now with all the deaths and everything. Just makes me appreciate life a little bit better, a little bit more, knowing that there are kids out there that don’t give a hell about their life, acting like it’s a video game. It made my appreciation for the game even higher. When I step on the floor, it’s going to feel like a performance every time.”
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Initially, the idea of Rose playing for USA Basketball was theorized to be a positive in the sense that he wouldn’t have to carry the same burden he does for the Bulls, due to the talent around him. But with several NBA stars no longer on the squad — in addition to George, most recently, reigning league MVP Kevin Durant withdrew from the team — the point guard understands that roles on the team could change, though he still believes he can stick to the playmaking-oriented approach he’s emphasized since training camp started in Las Vegas late last month.
“Oh yeah, when you lose players like that there’s definitely going to be some changes, but at the same time we just can’t quit and go home. We’ve got to go out here and compete. Coming in here today, guys that are still on the team have a drive and are still trying to make the team, so it seems like it didn’t take anybody down,” Rose said, adding, “The way that I’m playing and at the pace that I’m playing, I think that it should be fine.
“It’s going to help my game, it’s totally going to help my game because coming out here my job is to pick-up full-court, harass the ball and get guys an open shot. Out here it’s just knocking down open jump shots. That’s why you saw me shooting after practice a little bit, just set shots, and just trying to have that confidence knowing that if I’m open I’ve got an opportunity to shoot the ball. If not, drive and make someone help so it’s an easy opportunity for someone else,” he went on to explain. “Just playing pick-up — I don’t play pick-up during the summer — so just getting that rhythm, coming in here and knocking that rust off. My biggest thing is not turning over the ball. I didn’t have any turnovers today and we won that little scrimmage, so I guess I’m doing good.
“In my mind I always knew that I had a legit chance to make the team, and I’m happy that they brought me along, I’m happy that I made the last cuts, and just trying to stay positive, like I said, and every day coming here and just playing with these guys has given me an extra boost with my confidence. Just letting me know that I’m ready.”
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Overall, Rose’s mindset has remained positive, and from a health perspective, the superstar believes he’s in a good place.
“Just confidence-wise, I think I’m taking care of my body a lot more than when I first came back as far as stretching at night and hydrating. When I came back I wasn’t drinking as much water as I need to, and I’m just trying to think about what I can eliminate this time. Hydrating and stretching, that was key, and I think that’s why I’m able to come out here and play the way that I’m playing because I’m really stretching and getting sleep and rest,” the 25-year-old explained. “It’s been kind of fun. I’ve just been in recovery. Every day that I don’t do anything, it’s a day to recover. So I’m taking acupuncture, getting massages, staying off my feet, trying to eat right and trying to prepare myself for this long haul.”
After missing all but 10 regular-season games of the last two campaigns, participating in USA Basketball has given Rose a chance to test out a style of play that doesn’t rely as much on his physical gifts.
“My game is developing into a controlled game. I’m using my speed whenever I need to, and I’m playing a more relaxed game now. I think you’ll see a mature basketball player out there whenever I play,” he said. “I look at the game totally different now. I remember just being out here and just catching a feel for the game my first couple of years, and then actually been in the playoffs a few times, it just gives you more poise. You know the players’ tendencies, you know the coaches’ tendencies, you know what play they’re going to call in certain situations, so just seeing a lot of basketball, watching a lot of film with Thibs, and watching a lot of basketball period with the playoffs last season and being on the bench, I think I can become an assistant coach somewhere.”
“You talk to older players who really study the game and are students of the game, they look at the game totally different. For me, I always had a natural feel for the game. So I didn’t have to look at film. Looking at that film actually helps your game in another way. You see things that you normally don’t see. You use a lot more energy out there that you don’t really need. For me, I’m just trying to cut that out and play a solid game,” Rose added. ““Every time I step on the floor it’s something to prove. I have my own little goals in my head, I have my own little things that motivate me in my head that I keep to myself. But every time I step on the floor, I try to produce.”