LAS VEGAS -- After dealing with a litany of injuries that have limited him to playing in just 49 games over the past three seasons, Derrick Rose finds himself at a crossroads in his career as he continues training with Team USA this week.
The Chicago Bulls star must prove to himself -- and the rest of the basketball world -- that his body can withstand the grind of a long NBA season. He knows that plenty of people are doubting whether this can happen, but he is ready to embark on the long journey because he is confident he can't do any more to prepare his body for what is to come.
"I joke around with my trainer all the time," Rose said. "I think I could train someone to tell you the truth."
Rose understands that after missing most of the past three seasons, and playing in just 10 games in the past two seasons, he is going to have some tough days. His teammates and coaches have raved about his performance during the first two days of Team USA camp, but the 25-year-old Rose knows that every day will be different. That's the reason why he's trying to stay even-keeled about the expectations surrounding him.
"But getting through them down days, that's what going to make me a stronger player I think," he said. "I can't be down on it, just like (Monday). Yesterday is yesterday and today is in the past now, too. I got to look forward to what we got going on tonight, I got to get acupuncture, I got to get a massage. (Wednesday) I've got a practice and it starts all over again."
Every step Rose takes on the floor this week in Las Vegas is being watched carefully by Bulls personnel. Bulls' Director of Sports Performance Jen Swanson is in town to work with Rose. Bulls executive VP John Paxson was on hand Monday to check on Rose during Team USA's first practice. Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, who also serves as an assistant coach for Team USA, is constantly checking on his star player during practices to make sure he's feeling OK.
The Bulls are doing everything they can to protect Rose from another injury which makes the physical and mental preparation beforehand even more important. But even Rose acknowledged that when those rough days eventually come, it likely will be because of something that he's dealing with physically instead of what he accomplishes on the floor.
"Just seeing if I can hold up," Rose said. "I know I can, but just seeing how my body feels. Jen (Swanson) is here. She's been on my butt just making sure ... seeing how good I feel and making sure that I'm fine. And I take my hat off to the Bulls just checking on me, calling me, texting me and giving me advice about how I'm playing. It's all good advice and all good criticism."
But do all those questions turn into worry for an organization that's relying on a star player who has had so many different health problems? Thibodeau says that's not the case.
"I think you can't approach it that way," Thibodeau said. "I think he had some really strong early years where he didn't miss anything. And then he had some misfortune where he was injured for a couple years and hopefully he'll regain his health now. But he has to play. And I thought this experience for him in 2010 was a huge plus, and I think it helped him in having his MVP season. He hit the ground running, he was in great shape, he was ready to go. And I do like the fact that because of the talent on this team, he doesn't have to play a lot of minutes."
But like Thibodeau asserted, Rose knows he has to play as well. He knows he must continue to focus on all the small details to keep his body in alignment. To use a familiar Thibodeau refrain, he can't skip any steps. It's a fact that Rose is still coming to grips with.
"I was just laughing and joking with Kyle Korver like, 'Man, I'm old," Rose said with a laugh after Monday's practice. "I got to stretch. I got to use rollers and stuff.' And he looked at me kind of weird like, 'Hold up, you're only 25.' But there's so many games, man. So many playoff games, just playing and starting when I came in the league I think it helped my game."
Now, it appears, the muscle memory has returned faster than anyone could have anticipated. The speed and explosion that defined the early part of Rose's career is back and everyone is reminded of just how special a player he can be.
Korver, Rose's former teammate in Chicago, is one of many players hoping that Rose's body can hold up for the long haul.
"I think Derrick looks great," Korver said. "He doesn't look like he's favoring anything. He looks strong, he looks super explosive. He looks confident. Any time you take two years off there's like a game rhythm (to get back), right? There's a rhythm on defense, there's a rhythm on offense. And he's further along on that process than I thought he would be. I've got to play with him the last two days and he's looked great to me. He really has."