- Scott Powers, ESPN Staff Writer
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On the eve of Rose's return to game action for the first time since tearing his ACL on April 28, 2012, some of Rose’s closest friends and high school coach shared their thoughts and feelings on how they’ve witnessed Rose develop on and off the court in the past nearly year and a half.
Tim Flowers has been of Rose’s best friends since they began playing together in grade school. Flowers, Rose and a few other high school friends still live together. Flowers thought for all that Rose lost in a basketball sense from missing last season, Rose gained in other areas of his life.
“I believe even though he was injured and it took a toll on him because he’s never been injured and was used to playing, my honest opinion is this made him a better person,” Flowers said in a phone interview Friday. “He just learned how to be a better man and NBA player. I think he had that time to see how far he has come, how much he means to Chicago and to his family and 1-year-old son. I think he put so many things in perspective [from] not playing.”
Simeon High coach Robert Smith, who coached Rose in high school, had a similar view. Smith still often keeps in contact with Rose and has seen personal growth as well.
“Stuff happens for a reason,” Smith said in a phone interview Friday. “This was the first time basketball was taken away from him. I think he’s going to appreciate it even more this season. I’ve just watched him grow up and become more mature. Knowing how competitive Derrick is, I know he wanted to play. But he listened to his body and did what was best for him long term.”
Flowers can attest that not playing was difficult for Rose. That was especially the case when Rose heard about people criticizing him. While Rose told the media he wasn’t paying attention to the outside world, Flowers said he and his roommates would feed everything to Rose, even if he didn’t want to hear it.
“He’s not on the Internet,” Flowers said. “He’s not one of those people who listens to all of the criticism out there. But I’m someone who comes to the defense of all of my friends. We heard everything that was said about him, whether it was retired players, current players or whomever. We saw everything.
“One thing we always do, we always try to give him an advantage. He might not want to hear it, but we tell him because he might use it as a competitive edge and gain from it. I believe he uses it. He might not say it, but he uses everything people say about him in a positive way.”
Whether it’s that ammo Rose’s friends have been feeding him or Rose just being away for a season, Flowers and Andre Hamlin, another of Rose’s close friends, have noticed a different sort of confidence in Rose leading into this season.
“Derrick told me his freshman year in college he was going destroy everyone and be the best,” said Hamlin, who is Rose’s chief of security. “Now, he has that same drive, and, now, it’s even worse. The confidence he has now, I have never seen it before.
"The biggest thing is he’s prepared. He’s prepared himself. He was going to the gym two, three times a day in the summer. He’s been working his heart off. One thing he tells me is he’s not hoping to have a good season; he’s prepared to have a good season."
Flowers has received that same message from Rose.
“Whenever I talk to Derrick, I see a confidence I didn’t see before,” Flowers said. “He carries himself in a different manner than even the last four years. He believes, ‘It’s my time.’ He’s prepared in so many ways to take that next step.”
That next step begins Saturday.
10dMatt Walks, ESPN.com