Introspective Rose, back on home turf, ‘in awe of’ Pistons experience so far

Derrick Rose
Derrick Rose will suit up for the Pistons at United Center – his home for the first 8 years of his NBA career – for the first time on Friday
Ron Turenne (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

CHICAGO – If you’re making a list of the greatest Chicago point guards of all time, it probably starts with Isiah Thomas and ends with Derrick Rose. The Pistons would be thrilled if the similarities eventually extend to number of NBA titles won on their watch, but for now they’re simply thrilled that they’re getting this version of Derrick Rose.

Also thrilled: Derrick Rose.

“I feel great,” Rose said after the Pistons practiced at the place he called home for eight seasons, the United Center, Thursday afternoon. “Even making the decision to come here. Every day that we’re in Detroit, my family is happy being there. I’m happy being there. You hear things from afar, you don’t know what to expect. But everything’s been up and up. The organization’s been great. The staff has been great. I’ve been in awe of being in this surrounding.”

Rose will play at the United Center for the third time as an NBA player in a uniform other than that of the hometown Bulls on Friday with the Pistons. He did it once with the Knicks and once with the Timberwolves and came away a winner both times, leading the Knicks with a double-double in November 2016 and scoring 24 points with Minnesota last December.

Long before he suited up for the Bulls, Rose had Chicago abuzz. Just as Thomas electrified the city as a high school star at Westchester St. Joseph in the ’70s before winning the NCAA title as an Indiana sophomore, Rose led Simeon to the Public School League title at United Center and to two state titles before spending a year at Memphis, where the Tigers lost in overtime to Kansas in the 2008 NCAA title game.

While Thomas sabotaged his own chances to be drafted No. 1 by Dallas in 1981, allowing him to fall to the Pistons with the second pick, Rose was happy to be taken with the No. 1 pick in ’08 to stay at home. Three years later, he became the youngest MVP in NBA history.

Rose’s storybook existence took a sharp 180 the following year, though, when a devastating knee injury suffered in the playoffs began a downward spiral that left the charmed relationship between star and adoring hometown strained and seemed likely to squeeze whatever oxygen remained out of Rose’s career.

“I was going through a lot,” he said. “I was going through injuries. I was dealing with things off the court. A lot of circumstances I was put in and I had to weave through to find the place I’m at right now, which is what you see – the happiness. I’ve got my family now. I’ve got three kids. I’m happy with where I’m at right now, the destination I’m in right now, and I’m just trying to take everything in and learn every day and be appreciative of where I’m at.”

Recent conversations with Thomas helped brings Rose’s gathering perspective into focus. Talking with someone with whom he could relate so readily for their shared roots and journey resonated with Rose. And while Rose of course knew of Thomas’ story, he didn’t truly come to appreciate it fully or understand its applications for him until settling in with the Pistons.

“Not really until I got there and I understood he was the only one that beat (Michael Jordan) in his prime. He was a point guard. Understanding the spot he was in, the load he took on every night, I think being here, I appreciate him even more, understanding who he is as a person and as a player and the principles that he stood on. It’s just Chicago, you know what I mean? The way that he was brought up, his mentality, just everything. It just glows off him, his aura. He’s just a winner. After talking to him, I see why.”

When Thomas insulted Dallas to avoid being taken No. 1 – his Chicago buddy and future Pistons Bad Boys teammate, Mark Aguirre, went first instead – it wasn’t to get picked by the Pistons. He was hoping to manipulate the draft to be picked by the Bulls, too, who had the sixth pick in ’81. Jack McCloskey didn’t flinch, taking Thomas exuberantly, a decision that altered the course of the franchise forever and became Trader Jack’s first building block in a project that would culminate eight years later in the first Pistons title.

Thomas didn’t give Rose a lengthy primer on how a Chicago transplant morphs into a Piston, but something he told the team when Dwane Casey had Thomas speak to them in training camp stuck.

“He knows that I’m going to do anything it takes to win, that I’m going to try my hardest to be a winner when I exit this league,” Rose said. “The only thing he told me or told the team was, ‘Don’t throw a Pistons jersey on the floor. That’s like disrespecting the history of the Pistons.’ For him to say that, it just shows that he cherished the moments that he did play for the Pistons and it’s up to me to hold that bar high for the next group.”

Rose said he’s challenged himself to become a more vocal leader and “help giving knowledge back to the guys who are younger than me” and Dwane Casey said he sees that from Rose but that teammates root for him naturally because of his story, his resume and the unfailing intensity of his focus and effort.

“He’s a man’s man,” Casey said. “He holds himself accountable. Knowing what he’s been through in life with his career, you want him to be successful.”

“I’m just happy to be here,” Rose said. “The spot that I was in mentally a couple of years ago, I’m just happy that I weaved through it, got through it somehow, some way, with my family and my friends that were around me. I’m just grateful and, like Isiah, I’m just trying to cherish this moment.”

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