Of the 19 players in USA Basketball’s Las Vegas training camp, nobody is being more closely scrutinized than the one in the No. 41 jersey.
That would be Derrick Rose, he of the balky knees and the lengthy absence from the court.
The 25-year-old Chicago Bulls point guard said he wouldn’t be here if he didn’t think he could make the team. Two days into practice, he appears to be on track for one of the final 12 spots before Team USA heads to Spain for the FIBA World Cup.
Rose moves effortlessly around the court, the signs of his former explosiveness showing on occasion. He’s under no physical restrictions and is putting out maximum effort.
“I’ve been preparing for this for a long time,” Rose said Monday after his first workout. “I’ve dedicated my whole summer to this moment.”
On Tuesday, Rose seemed just as comfortable after a two-hour practice during which Team USA scrimmaged against the Select squad.
“I think both days were the same,” he said. “I only had one turnover each day, and as a point guard, that’s what I want to do, take care of the ball and get it to my teammates where they can score.”
Rose has played in only a handful of NBA games in the past three seasons. He tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the first game of the 2012 playoffs and missed the 2012-13 season, then tore the meniscus in his right knee 10 games into the 2013-14 season.
He has been away from the Bulls since, so it’s little wonder he’s excited to be back on the court playing meaningful basketball.
“No one has seen me in a long time,” Rose said. “It’s kind of weird. People are kind of like in awe to even see me, like I’m handicapped or something. But this is the beginning of a long journey.”
Rose said he’s in a good state physically and mentally.
“There’s no pain,” he said. “I’m able to do what I want physically. I just have to shake some of the rust off.
“It’s been a hard last couple of years. But it was a chance to get my body strong, and my confidence is there. All I can do is try to not give up.”
Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, a Team USA assistant, wants to have a healthy, confident Rose on the floor when the 2014-15 season begins in November. He’s encouraged two days into camp.
“I know how much he wants to be here,” Thibodeau said. “He just needs to be himself, and he knows he doesn’t have to carry the burden here that he carries with us (in Chicago).”
Thibodeau said he had no qualms about Rose’s participation with Team USA.
“I think it’s important that he get back on the court and compete,” Thibodeau said. “Derrick worked out with our summer league team here in Vegas a couple of weeks ago, and this is another important step for him as he comes back. Being here competing with the best players is a good place to measure where you are.”
Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski said Rose’s presence is a boost for the national team because of his ability and experience. Rose played on the 2010 gold medal-winning FIBA World Championship team in Turkey.
“He’s been an elite player, and he wants to get back to being an elite player,” Krzyzewski said. “I’ve loved coaching Derrick, and his being here affords him the opportunity to take a step toward being that elite player again.”
Don’t expect any snap decisions on Rose making the final roster. There’s a month of practices, scrimmages and exhibition games to gauge his progress. And while his first two practices have yielded positive results, he knows there will be some setbacks.
“Of course there are going to be down days,” he said. “But getting through the down days is the key. I have a great group of teammates, and it’s an honor to be here playing with these great players. I know I have to earn my spot on this team, and I’m going to do everything I can to be part of this.”
Contact reporter Steve Carp at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.