With the battered Chicago Bulls surviving a recent pandemic of injury and illness (so severe it at times has resembled a Michael Crichton novel) to advance to the Eastern Conference Playoff semifinals, a lot of attention has been given to the return (or lack thereof) of one Derrick Rose.
The buzz around Rose’s absence grew to the proportions of a 50-ton bumblebee before tip-off yesterday when the standout point guard was once again not active.
The fact that the Bulls were able to beat the Heat in Game 1 only raised more questions — just how good could they be with Rose back?
To some, Chicago’s once-favorite son, who sharpened his skills on the asphalt courts of Englewood before starring at Simeon, isn’t holding up his end of the bargain representing the city of broad shoulders as he lingers on the sidelines despite being medically cleared to return to play following ACL surgery in May of 2012.
To others, Rose knows best. As an elite athlete — a former MVP in the best league in all the land — only he can decide when the time was right to return.
Your humble narrator didn’t know where he stood on the issue.
I’ve never had surgery, never played basketball at an elite level (although I have been known to point out my 1994-95 Ohio High School fresh-soph ‘Defense’ award to anyone walking past my desk at NT Sports HQ) or coached cagers. I am certainly not a medical professional (heck, I haven’t even played one on TV).
So, in a quest to better understand the Rose situation, I sought a little help before Monday’s Bulls game.
Athletic trainer Gina Martin of City Center Rehabilitation in Peru has spent the past 13 years working with athletes at La Salle-Peru High School. Martin, who has also undergone ACL surgery herself, said overcoming the mental challenge of a return to competition is a large part of the recovery process.
“That plays a huge role in anyone’s return to play, whether it’s an ACL or any other injury, because that fear of doing it again is an automatic response from any normal person. That fear of going back and doing it again is something that every athlete has to be able to overcome prior to going back to their sport,” Martin said.
“It’s important for them to get through that fear factor. Because if you don’t you have a higher chance of injuring it again or injuring the other side because you’re favoring it too much.”
Martin said as a trainer that she will push an athlete toward working through the fear factor.
“If I know they’re at a point where they’re not going to do themselves any harm and I can push them a little bit further, I’m going to do it — because a lot of them won’t take it upon themselves to push through that next step, because they’re afraid. They need one of us (trainers) to do that for them.”
But that doesn’t mean Martin would necessarily push an athlete like Rose to return to action.
“If you’re not mentally ready to do it, it’s not the time. I’m a firm believer that you have to be ready both mentally and physically or you’re not going to help your team. If you’re not in the right frame of mind to go out and play you’re team is not going to be ready for you to help them.
2012-13 NewsTribune Prep Boys Basketball Coach of the Year Jan Thompson has the advantage of providing a pair of perspectives (from a lofty vantage point).
Along with his coaching experience, the 6-11 Thompson suited up for Division I Eastern Illinois University, and played on college basketball’s biggest stage when the Panthers qualified for the NCAA tournament in 2001.
Thompson stresses that the prep and professional games are two different worlds, but says that as a coach, he would pressure Rose to return after doctors had given him clearance to play.
“I don’t want to doubt (Rose’s) competitiveness, because everybody says he’s a tremendous competitor. But, for me, I’ve always felt if you’re a competitor you want to compete. Regardless of what’s going on, regardless of if you’re hurt or not.
He’s sitting on the end of the bench watching his team struggle. They’re in the playoffs and have won some games, but they’re not the same team without him. … Derek Rose at 80 percent is still better than a lot of people at 100 percent,” Thompson said.
“High school and the pros are extremely different, but if he were one of my best players I’d hope that he would want to play - that he would be competitor enough to want to get back out there,” said Thompson, who added his own players have been proven to be very eager to return from injuries.
“It would take the Illinois National Guard to keep some of my player off the floor.”
“If a doctor gives you the clearance to get out there and go, you really should give some thought to playing. … If I were (the Bulls) coach I would kind of put a little pressure on him like ‘Hey man, you’re team needs you right now. Let’s go’.”
Thompson practices what he preaches - the big fellow forwent shoulder surgery his senior year at EIU in order to salvage a small part of his final college season.
“Fortunately, I was able to come back and play the last three games of my senior season. I wasn’t very good - but I played. There was no way in heck that I was going to go without playing,” he said.
St. Bede senior Brad Groleau has felt Rose’s pain.
In his sophomore season on the gridiron in 2010, Groleau fell to an ACL tear and later underwent surgery at the Mayo Clinic under surgeon Dr. Michael Stuart - an alumnus of the Academy.
Rehabbing the injury took Groleau months of hard work, but he was able to return later his sophomore spring to play a full season of baseball. The St. Bede senior has continued to produce strong campaigns on the football field, basketball court and baseball diamond since, earning All-NT honors in each sport.
Despite his successful surgery and physical rehabilitation, Groleau said it was tough to get back to competition.
“Definitely mentally you are worried - because you aren’t 100 percent confident like you were before you did it,” Groleau said.
Groleau - who has taken to defending Rose’s decision to sit out whenever the topic of the Bulls star comes up in conversation - said the mental hurdle of returning can be huge, especially for a player as active and physically gifted as Rose.
“The hardest part thing for me of the mental part was just relying on that knee to make the cuts. And Derek Rose, he’s just a freak athlete. I don’t blame him for not coming back.”
“I think you just have to go on how you feel,” Groleau said. “Every injury is different and with the mental aspect - if you don’t feel ready, don’t do it.”
There are no easy answers for Derrick Rose, but Groleau’s advice seems to be the route he is taking.
Despite the help, I’m still conflicted.
I’ve known real men, scraping by with blue collar jobs, who went to work needing a surgery they couldn’t afford. ‘Rose is an acrobat,’ my brain counters - a finely-tuned machine who soars through the air for a living, all without benefit of a safety net. If anybody needs to be 100 percent ready to return, it’s got to be him, right?
One thing is certain. I think that everyone hopes that next year Rose will be back soaring and scoring and this will all be forgotten.
After all, he’s got to forget before he can truly move on.
Chris Yucus is a NewsTribune Sports Writer. He can be reached at 220-6995, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsChris.