LAS VEGAS — In this artificial city where hope can disappear as easily as coins in a slot machine, a man of substance is working to regain his magic.
You remember public address announcer Tommy Edwards’ pregame call at the United Center: From Chicago! …
Or maybe you don’t.
Derrick Rose has played so little basketball in the last 27 months that it can — occasionally — be difficult to recall the sway he once held on his hometown. The do-good kid raised by a single mother and three older siblings who escaped Englewood. The No. 1 overall pick who stormed to Rookie of the Year honors for the Bulls with his unique blend of speed, strength and sizzle. The youngest Most Valuable Player in NBA history.
Rose returned to the hardwood for public observation Monday, practicing without incident and with flashes of greatness at USA Basketball’s minicamp for the FIBA World Cup of Basketball.
Eight months and six days have passed since Rose tore his right meniscus. And he’s exactly 27 months removed from having his left ACL snap. Those two injuries, combined with the public relations missteps in his will-he-or-won’t-he botched return saga late in the 2012-13 season, sullied for some Rose’s once-spotless on-court reputation.
For some, the can’t-miss kid landed under the microscope.
“That’s ridiculous,” Team USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “He’s one of the great people and one of the great players. To get multiple injuries like that can defeat anybody mentally. I don’t see that. He should be applauded for what he’s doing. I know I’m a Chicagoan who is very happy that he’s back, not just for USA Basketball but for the Bulls.”
As part of his second serious rehabilitation, Rose has been playing full court since mid-May. But as one of 19 hopefuls trying to make the 12-man roster that will compete in Spain in September, Monday marked Rose’s first competition against elite players.
There he was, leading a fast break alongside All-Star Kevin Durant. There he was, knocking down a three-pointer off a James Harden feed. Rose was even picking up full court defensively.
To hear Rose tell it, he’s right where he belongs.
“I’ve been preparing for this for a long time,” he said. “It’s probably big for everyone else because they haven’t seen me. It’s kind of weird. People are kind of like in awe to even see me run down the floor, like I’m handicapped or something.
“This is only the beginning of a long journey. But my confidence level is through the roof.”
Indeed, that aspect of Rose’s game hasn’t changed one iota.
“I know how special I am as a player,” he said. “And I know what I still can do.”
Rose always has carried the air of one comfortable in his own skin, unfazed by the hysteria that swirls around him. He has alternated between insisting he’s unaware of any criticism and claiming he uses it as motivation.
In his lone news conference following the meniscus surgery, he famously said “you can be a fool if you want to” when asked about those who doubt he can regain his elite status.
“I’ve got somebody that’s looking up to me, and that’s my son,” Rose said, when asked how he stayed positive. “All I can do is go out here and at least try, not give up. Usually, when I play the way I normally play, something positive comes of it.
“With the second injury, of course people are going to have stuff to say. But you can’t get mad at them. I’ve got too many positives going my way. I got my son. I got my family. Rehab took care of everything. Now, I’m just trying to put it all behind me and today is another day.”
Granted, Monday only marked a practice. But as the starting point guard on the U.S. national team that captured gold at the 2010 world championships in Turkey, Rose is back in the program that helped catapult him to his MVP season in 2010-11.
And there were signs that rust won’t be a factor. He knocked down two three-pointers. He attacked the rim twice in transition. He showed no hesitation.
“The explosiveness is the same,” said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, who is one of Krzyzewski’s Team USA assistants. “The strength in his leg is great. His explosion is back. That’s all there. He has to work on the timing. He has missed a lot of time in the last three years.
“But he was much more patient. He just found the rhythm of the game. He didn’t settle for the quick shot. He ran the team. He had a really good understanding of when he should shoot and when he should pass. His wind still isn’t there, but it was a really good start.”
And Rose insists he’s engaged in this endeavor for the long haul. This is not a week of practices for competition and confidence. This is Rose trying to make the team and win gold in Spain.
Relaxed and conversational afterward, Rose laughed as he shared an anecdote about former Bull Kyle Korver, also trying to make Team USA.
“I was telling him, ‘Man, I’m old. I’ve got to stretch, I’ve got to use rollers (on my legs) and stuff,’ ” Rose said. “He looked at me kind of weird, ‘Hold up, you’re only 25.’ And that’s the thing; I still have my youth.
“Coming back last season, of course I wanted to prove everybody wrong. I wanted it too, too bad. This time around, I just know that I’ve got to let the game come to me. Go out there and just play.”