Thursday October 29th, 2009

DEERFIELD, Ill. -- The swimsuit model faked left and used her right hand against Derrick Rose. She was thinner than Tayshaun Prince but surprisingly skilled. As Marisa Miller drove by for a two-handed layup off the glass, Rose nodded with a smile to the small audience watching from the three-point line.

Miller invaded the Bulls' practice facility last week to nominate Rose as Chicago's sexiest athlete on behalf of Victoria's Secret, yet Rose didn't appear shy about the honor.

"Everybody was telling me about her," Rose said of Miller, who was on the cover of Sports Illustrated's 2008 Swimsuit Issue. "And then I was seeing pictures of her and I was like, man, she's been doing pretty good."

The NBA Rookie of the Year launches his second season Thursday amid expectations that Rose will fast join Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Tony Parker among the league's top point guards. On opening night in Chicago, he will face Parker, who has already achieved everything Rose wants and yet remains hungry for more. The following night, Rose will return to Boston for a rematch with Rajon Rondo, who nearly averaged a triple-double last postseason while prevailing in their remarkable seven-game series.

Rose's minutes may be tempered by a preseason right ankle injury (to the posterior tibialis tendon, if you must know) that has him mired at 80 percent, by his calculations. But the elites have a way of making injuries seem incidental, though it's never as easy or painless as they make it appear.

How does a 21-year-old like Rose indulge the spotlight while continuing to sacrifice himself for the good of the team? Each of the great point guards has managed the dichotomy between his need to become a star and the needs of the team. As famous as they become, they don't lose sight of their larger purpose on the floor to create opportunities for others. Rose's teammates see those values in Rose, and they trust he won't let them down.

"You've really got to credit his brothers," Bulls center Joakim Noah said of Dwayne, Reggie and Allan Rose, all older than Derrick. "They'll be in here in the summertime just playing 21 or shooting around, and they're really tough on him, and I think that's good. They're not going to hype him up, they're not going to believe the hype one bit, and even if they were, they're not going to let him know anyway."

As we talked, Noah was sitting on a courtside table watching the model and the point guard greet each other for the sake of the gathered cameras. Miller handed Rose a Bulls jersey that read SEXY above his number.

"Don't let that get to your head!" Noah shouted as Rose waved back to him. "Relax, man."

Rose spent the summer detailing his jump shot after shooting 22.2 percent from the three-point line, a necessary improvement for someone who will be expected to build on his 16.8-point average last season now that Ben Gordon has moved to Detroit.

"His shooting was a point of emphasis, and he put a lot of time in," said general manager Gar Forman, whose second-floor office overlooks the practice court. "You come in here in the summer, and it's not surprising that he's in here at 10 or 11 at night getting shots up."

One lesson Rose will be preaching this season is to not misjudge his humility as weakness. Alarmingly quiet as a rookie, he has been learning to raise his voice in order to express leadership. But he isn't likely to get carried away with it.

"My mom would not let that happen," Rose said. "She would kill me if I [went] around talking about how I'm better than someone or acting a certain way toward somebody."

Some NBA players have difficulty playing in their hometown. But Rose thrives on being a Bull, joining his favorite team as the No. 1 pick just two years after he led Chicago's Simeon High School to the state championship (while scoring two points in the title game).

"Everywhere you go, you always have people looking, or people are always in your business, so that's the hardest thing," he said. "But playing-wise, it's great."

Rose has developed a sense for when -- and when not to -- engage with strangers.

"I have to see how the person is," he said. "I don't like to be around anything negative. I think the negative stuff will bring negative energy toward you. So if you got anything negative, I'll see you another day -- I'll say hi to you, and that will be about it. Hanging out and all that stuff, that will never happen; I don't hang around with people who don't have anything going for themselves. They won't know I'm disrespecting them, it won't be disrespect. They'll just know that it will never be a close relationship."

Then there are other times in the company of his mother, Brenda, when fans will approach Rose at a restaurant.

"I'll tell them, I'm with my family, will they wait until after I get done," Rose said. "But if my mom is there she'll go, 'Oh, go ahead and sign ... go ahead and talk to them.' "

A lot of good meals have gone cold that way, he said.

"When I was younger, I wasn't used to it, so I'd be kind of angry, like, man, what am I supposed to do?" he said. "But I realize there aren't too many people in my shoes. I should be grateful and thankful for what God put in front of me."

Rose's perspective is bound to change as he grows more famous and his public image becomes more valuable and measured. He had a difficult summer when a photograph was released of him flashing gang signs with friends (he said he was joking around) and he was accused of having someone take a standardized text on his behalf to gain eligibility as a freshman at Memphis (Rose insisted that he took the test).

Those incidents have little bearing on his teammates' view of their leader.

"The most special thing about Derrick is the way he dealt with his whole rookie situation," Noah said. "That's something so underrated. To be the No. 1 pick and play for your hometown, for a team that had not a lot of expectations -- he had the world on his shoulders. There are very few players in the league who could have dealt with [those demands] the way he dealt with them ... to put that all to the side and really focus on the team. It's hard in this league to find people who are all about the right things, and to me he's one of those guys."

That's why, according to Noah, there is a sense from Rose's teammates that they must not strand him, but instead help him to carry the Bulls up the standings.

"It's not just on D-Rose," he said. "It's all of our responsibility to step up and to help him contribute."

Which is good news for a team-first point guard, as Lennon and McCartney once put it: The love you make is equal to the love you take.

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