By Glenn Minnis
Score one for Derrick Rose. After nearly two years of virtual inactivity, the former league MVP showed he is indeed ahead of the game during a Team USA practice on Monday in, of all places, the high-stakes world of Las Vegas.
After playing in just 10 games over the last two seasons, Rose pronounced himself not only fit for duty but brimming in confidence soaring "through the roof" as he took the hardwood and largely managed to steal the show from a backcourt of All-Stars featuring Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard.
"I'm there, man," Rose told reporters following his first practice and long after he had established as much by attacking the basket during drills and a scrimmage in the same way that once propelled him to being championed as the youngest MVP in league history. "My confidence is very high, and that's the only thing you might see this year - that my confidence level is through the roof."
If that remains the case, the sky could be the limit as to just how far Rose and the deeply-loaded Bulls can go. With a roster that also includes reigning Defensive Player of the Year Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, Jimmy Butler, Pau Gasol and Nikola Mirotic and grizzled coach Tom Thibodeau pulling the strings in it all, certainly a deep Eastern Conference playoff run and perhaps even a conference finals showdown with LeBron James and the Cavs don't seem far from the realm of possibility.
After Monday's first-day drama had passed, the 25-year-old Rose pronounced he felt no pain in his most recently surgically repaired right knee and a delighted Coach Mike Krzyzewski declared himself breathing a lot easier about his team's World Cup chances given Blake Griffin, Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook have all withdrawn from the team over the summer and James early on announced he planned to take the off-season off from such stressful competition.
"I was ecstatic about watching him today," Krzyzewski told ESPN. "He's better than four years ago. Four years ago, he was 21, and he was just on the verge of becoming who he was going to be. But he had a great practice today. You don't practice like this every day. He hasn't been in practices like this. Now we'll watch what he does for the next few days."
Ironically enough, Rose insists he's here largely due to just how much has changed in his life between then and now. He pointed to all the work he's done in chiseling his body over his otherwise lost two seasons and the birth of his young son, Derrick Jr., as factors that now give him "more balance" in all facets of his life.
"I really think I'm a special player in my mind," he said. "And I still have youth - I'm only 25. Just doing everything I'm supposed to do in rehab, just strengthening everything, taking it one day at a time and getting the most out of every day. That's why I've been preparing for this moment, really."
So blissful is Rose, he's even willing to forgive those who have trespassed against him.
"I can't get mad at that, man," he said of all those who have dogged him about perhaps not coming back sooner. "People are going to say anything. For me, just try to take and try to use it when I work out. Use it as motivation, and try to prove people wrong. I know how special I am as a player. And I know what I still can do. You're going to see a lot of people change, but it will be funny. It is what it is."
Afterwards a radiant Thibodeau, who also serves as an assistant for Team USA, gushed "we saw the quickness and the explosion in summer league practices. And today, I think he was very patient, and he found the rhythm of the game. I thought he played well on both sides of the ball. He pushed himself. He picked up full-court. I thought he had great technique, great effort, and he ran the team well. So it's a good first step."
Yeah, but one small step for Derrick Rose ultimately could mean one giant leap for the Chicago Bulls.
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