“This is my chance to actually become a better leader, being more vocal in the locker room, being more vocal on the floor,” said Rose after a second day of Chicago scrimmages at Quest MultiSport.
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Rose looking like a leader for USA Basketball

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By Sam Smith | 08.15.2014 | 9:00 p.m. CT | asksam@bulls.com | @SamSmithHoops

It’s time for professional basketball again at the United Center, 8 p.m. CT on Saturday with Derrick Rose and USA Basketball.

And perhaps the question is not so much about Rose’s health or welfare or game, but whether Rose can save USA Basketball.

“Compared to the two Olympic teams (I coached in 2008 and 2012), it’s vastly different as far as experience goes,” said USA Basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski as the team prepares for the Basketball World Cup in Spain starting later this month. “It’s similar to (the world championships in) 2010 in that you had a lot of emerging players, emerging stars. Anthony Davis is an emerging star. Kyrie (Irving) is ready to do that. Derrick has some that and hopefully wants to do it again. James (Harden) and (Stephen) Curry; they’re ready, I think, to take it to another level, also. We’re more capable of getting beat than we would be in London or Beijing. We don’t have veterans and we’re not as big.”

So as the US basketball reputation again goes on display on the international stage, it’s Rose, who has missed most of the last two seasons, who is the veteran in terms of high level experience with this USA Basketball team.

Of the 16 players currently on the roster that has to be reduced to 12 before the tournament begins August 30, Rose has played in the most All-Star games, three. Nine of the 16 have never been in an NBA All-Star game and four others just once. Rose is the only league MVP and along with Harden, Curry, Davis and Rudy Gay the only players on previous USA gold medal teams.  

This is no walkover anymore for USA Basketball teams. And they get their first good look Saturday against Brazil, which is among the favorites to win the gold medal with a big lineup that includes NBA players Nene, Tiago Splitter and Anderson Varejao and Leandro Barbosa and top international guard Marcelo Huertas.

So it’s coming down for USA Basketball as less exhibition than a fast track to trying to become a team.

Toward that end, Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau is taking an active role with the defense since being small and guard oriented, the USA game plan is to pressure the ball and run. Which can be problematic given the lack of size with most of the top big men, like Kevin Love and LaMarcus Aldridge dropping out and Chris Bosh and Dwight Howard electing not to participate along with LeBron James. Thus the USA team experienced a big loss last week when Kevin Durant dropped out and Paul George was injured at the end of training in Las Vegas. The team then began working in more post plays for DeMarcus Cousins, who then got hurt in practice Thursday and is unavailable until the exhibition games in New York next week.

“We’ve been doing a lot of reacting to body blows,” said Krzyzewski, who obviously was miffed by Durant’s late withdrawal after his commitment and participating in Las Vegas. “The fact we’ve done this for a long period of time gives us a chance maybe to react a little bit better. Coaching the U.S. is a little bit different. You have to have quick reaction because the life of our team is one month. When a guy is injured, even if you get him back you may lose him for 20 percent of the time you have him. There’s no day to day; there’s not that many days.”

So, suddenly, Rose in not working his way back surrounded by league MVP Durant and top, veteran big men and instead becomes a crucial component for USA Basketball and a veteran being relied upon by the coaching staff and younger players.

“This is my chance to actually become a better leader, being more vocal in the locker room, being more vocal on the floor,” said Rose after a second day of Chicago scrimmages at Quest MultiSport. “(Saturday) starts all that. It’s a huge journey for me. I’m not trying to shy away from that. I think it’s going to help me with becoming a leader with the Bulls next season. It will help me, I have to say, have a better relationship with my teammates. I always have a good relationship, but being vocal and always talking to them it should be even better. So I’m excited about it.

“I normally lead by example, coming in the gym, shooting a lot, staying in the gym,” Rose explained. “I’ve been a gym rat. The teams I’ve been on previous to coming in the NBA, you see a person working out you want to do the same thing or you feel bad about yourself. That’s how I usually lead by example.  

“Every year you have to add something to your game. You’re going to reach that peak where you can damn near do anything you want to do on the floor. The game then becomes mental and right now that mental part is the part of the game I’m missing, that leadership, being on the court, getting guys together and letting guys know it’s us against everyone when we’re on the court,” said Rose.  “I just want to try a different approach, continue to do it and find the right recipe to win the championship.”

That’s an NBA June goal, though Rose is obviously concentrating on the USA Basketball goal for now.

“My game is totally different,” Rose said. “When I came back last time (from injury), I was just trying to get in a groove. My confidence is high right now. Even playing in the game (Saturday), I think you’ll see by the way I attack the players defensively, by the way I play offensively, not rushing anything, taking my time on pick and rolls, letting the play develop. When I was out there when I was younger, I used to be just running crazy because I didn’t know how fast I was or I was just using it (speed) for no reason, just mindless. Now I know I have other skills I’m working on. I can really control the game and control what I’m doing when I’m out there instead of just playing.”

Rose and his teammates also have been around Chicago this week for USA Basketball and Nike, and Rose said it’s been additional motivation from the community reaction.

“I’m looking forward to it (the Bulls season), to tell you the truth,” Rose said. “The feeling is really coming from the love I’ve been getting from the fans. I think the fans are way more excited than I think the players are. And that’s one reason I think the turnout may be big (Saturday) because the Bulls fans want to see some basketball. We have a great roster; they believe in the roster. It’s great. Restaurants, gas stations, people pulling up on the side of (my) car blowing their horns, trying to get me to roll my window down, waiters, waitresses saying they’re excited, saying stuff that is going to lift your spirits, saying it’s our year, stuff like that. As a player and someone who has dedicated their whole life to this franchise and this sport it means a lot.”

Still, it comes down to basketball. And this will be a tough one for the USA team with Spain the tournament favorite with the Gasol brothers, Serge Ibaka and playing at home and veteran groups like Saturday’s opponent, Brazil.

The U.S. team, if allowed, will play an entertaining game with fast breaks and aggressive defense igniting the offense, a version of the way the Miami Heat played. Though without LeBron James makes it more difficult. Durant, too.  

“Kevin, obviously that’s a guy when things break down you can just give him the ball and he’ll get a good shot up there and probably make it,” said Kyle Korver. “Obviously, we’d love to have the MVP of the NBA on our team. But there are a lot of guys who are accustomed to having the ball in their hands all the time and there are a lot of playmakers. We’ll miss those guys for sure, but I think we have a lot to work with here.  Our guard play is amazing. That’s going to be the strength of our team now. And a lot of what we do is going to be predicated off our guard play. I don’t think we’re going to get to the end of the shot clock much.

“We’re game planning for teams trying to slow it down against us,” added Korver. “We don’t have anyone who is going to have the ball the whole time on offense and take up that energy. So you have more energy to spend on the defensive end. And because we’re smaller, we’re going to try to get steals, trap, pick up the pace of the game. I think everyone has bought into that from the get go.  A super fun game. You go in there, play 100 miles an hour on defense, play for four or five minutes and a new group comes in and you try to keep it going., It’s like (hockey) line changes and that’s the way we’ve been practicing. One group, five minutes, next for five minutes. Coach was saying only three guys averaged more than 20 minutes per game (in the 2012 Olympics) and it was barely more than 20 minutes per game. This is the way we’re going to play. You go out there, you give everything you have on every single possession. And then you’re tired you come out and we’re just going to keep it going.”

It’s a plan, and suddenly a lot depends on Rose, the fourth oldest of the 16 players currently on the roster.

“I didn’t have a question mark on him (Rose) being able to play because Tom (Thibodeau) said he was ready,” said Krzyzewski. “I didn’t realize he would be able to play at the level he is playing. I think he’s outstanding. Look, he’s one of the best guys in the whole world. He’s so easy to coach and wants to please. It’s very neat to see how excited he is about being here and his first game back to play in the United Center. As a Chicagoan, I’m ecstatic about him and what Tom has done for the Bulls. They’re keepers, I’ll tell you that. They’re good people.

“It hurts when you lose a player like KD because of how gifted he is offensively,” agreed Rose. “But at the same time you have guys who have come in here and worked their butts off the entire off season because they showed they deserved to be looked at, too. You have a lot of scorers and players in here you can tell they are ready to do their job. It’s rare a team will go out there and try to run with us. We know we’re going to get some games like that, Saturday a little bit, a big team that will slow the ball down and try to pound us on the inside. We’ll see how far that goes.”

Not cocky, confident, the confidence of a leader.

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