DEERFIELD, Ill. – Derrick Rose was back practicing with the Chicago Bulls last winter, halfway through his 17-month rehab layoff following knee surgery. So the team’s morning session on two-a-day Saturday was a little blurred as a milestone.
What the media folks saw when the gym door opened at the tail end of practice this time, well, the whole NBA world saw before most of the Bulls’ games over the second half of last season: Rose in workout clothes, working on his shooting range and his free throws. No drama there, either.
But for a couple hours, in the Bulls’ initial practice of training camp, there were some differences – some subtle, others obvious – from what last spring mostly was shadow-boxing for Rose and his teammates.
The All-Star guard, whose May 2012 ACL surgery unexpectedly wiped out his entire 2012-13 season, stuck around for the 5-on-5 scrimmaging Saturday. Neither he nor the other players shied away from contact. He read, reacted, misfired in his timing and even made mistakes – but his instincts were triggering and he wasn’t overthinking.
“There were some hard fouls,” Rose said. “You got to get used to it. I didn’t think nothing of it. Just got up and shot the free throws.
“I was able to do a little bit more [than last season]. I was attacking a lot, getting to the line. … It’s just the way I play. I came in this league a driver, I’m going to continue to drive.”
Said Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau: “I’d say he doesn’t have to pace himself like he did. … The driving and finishing looked a lot better. And his timing’s still not there, but it’s a good start.
“The drills, working on the defense, he was fine. When we got to the scrimmage part, as it went along, he got better and better. I think the big thing, he has to get used to the contact, the physicality. Then of course, we haven’t put in our double-teams and things like that – we’re going to add that in so he gets comfortable with it.”
It’s not as if Thibodeau has posted an anti-bounty, with a fat fine for every guy who bangs into Rose. “The one big thing about him practicing last year, they got comfortable with that,” the coach said. “So they’re playing, they’re not thinking about [not hitting Derrick]. They’re going pretty hard.”
Rose said he planned to participate in Saturday’s evening session and every other scheduled practice, “pushing hard” through camp. His priorities are to boost his wind and – unrelated to his left knee – to get his legs in game shape. But after more than a year spent grinding through rehab, and that summer work in Los Angeles with peers such as Kevin Durant and Kevin Love, Rose is in stellar shape overall.
He has added a morning-and-night stretching regimen. Rose, who averaged 25.1 ppg in four seasons before sitting out 2012-13, also said he has added 10 pounds across his chest and arms, his waist now a bit smaller.
“I had workouts – don’t tell Thibs – harder than this [practice], man,” Rose said. “For real. I worked out like three times a day. So for us to actually go through practice and have water breaks and all that, that’s something I normally don’t do in my workouts.”
Like a lot of elite athletes forced by injuries to confront their physical vulnerability, Rose said he wished he knew about his body and training techniques what he has been forced to learn since the ACL blowout.
“I wish I would have learned this when I was a rookie,” said Rose, who will turn 25 Oct. 4. “People would always tell me, ‘Stretch’ and ‘Take care of your body.’ But when you’re healthy and talented the way some of these guys are … I was like, ‘I’m 22 years old, I don’t [need that.]‘ It took an injury for me to really take care of my body.”