When the Knicks acquired Derrick Rose in a trade with the Chicago Bulls, they knew they were getting a mercurial talent, a player that has such remarkable strength and explosiveness he’s a YouTube highlight waiting to happen.
What they didn’t necessarily know is that Rose can be a sensational leader.
“One thing about Derrick that drove me nuts – it probably was the only thing about Derrick that drove me nuts – was that he was too deferential,’’ said John Calipari, the Kentucky coach who was Rose’s coach at Memphis.
“He was the best player on the team. I thought the best player in the country, and he would defer to teammates on shots. He’d defer to them in the locker room. I flat out told him that we weren’t going to be the team I thought we could be if he didn’t step up.’’
Rose stepped up. Memphis went 38-2 that season, losing to Kansas in an epic overtime championship game.
Rose was a freshman that season. This is his first season with the Knicks.
Rose understands he’s not the face of this team; Carmelo Anthony is. He’s not necessarily the future of the team; Kristaps Porzingis could be.
But as the point guard, Rose needs to be a leader. After Sunday’s 114-109 loss to the up-and-coming Utah Jazz in The Garden, Rose addressed that role.
“People lead in different ways — you have your leaders like Kobe [Bryant],’’ Rose told reporters after the game. “He’s more personal, intimate, in your face about it.
“Leaders like myself and Tim Duncan, we lead by example. Coming in every day and being consistent with our workouts. That we’re focused and trying to get better. I lead in different ways. I lead by example.’’
Rose is averaging 16.3 points, 4.8 assists, 4.5 rebounds and one steal per game. He is learning how to play alongside Anthony, Porzingis and Courtney Lee.
He is learning who they are as teammates and people.
“That takes time, too,’’ Rose said. “Got to learn guys, how to approach different guys. They’re men. You have to approach them the right way.
“Eighty-two games, it’s building that relationship, where one can approach one another without disrespecting one another.’’
This patient, mature approach to leadership allows Rose to gently push the Knicks to the next level.
He sees tremendous talent, a lineup with at least three players – Rose, Anthony and Porzingis – capable of leading the team in scoring on any given night. Rose wants that talent to gel on defense as well.
“I’m seeing improvement,” Rose added. “But it’s about the chemistry, it’s all about building the chemistry where if one guy messes up, the other guy may have to give extra effort on that play to stop the ball and get that guy. It’s all about covering each other.”
It certainly sounds like Rose is a Knicks’ leader-by-example in the making.
Anthony has won more Olympic gold medals (three) than any other American men’s basketball player. He also is the U.S. men’s career Olympic scoring leader.
I asked Duke coach and US Olympic coach Mike Krzyzewski before the summer’s games in Rio what has made Anthony one of the greatest men’s Olympic players of all-time.
“He’s been a warrior for USA Basketball,’’ said Coach K. “He’s willing to do anything. He’s been great to coach, upbeat.
“Internationally, he’s one of the best players ever. I mean, he’s one of the best players anyway. In international ball, he can play the ‘4’ a lot. And he’s tough enough to play any ‘4’ and most ‘4’s cannot guard him.’’