As far as the calendar is concerned, Derrick Rose, 25, is only a year and almost three months older than Damian Lillard, but the Chicago Bulls superstar is much older in professional basketball years.
Rose is entering his seventh season in the league while Lillard, the Portland Trail Blazers star point guard, is coming into just his third year. The pair will reunite beginning Thursday in Chicago as part of the continuation of Team USA's training camp as it prepares for the World Cup of Basketball in Spain later this month.
For Lillard, the opportunity to play with Rose, who Lillard has patterned parts of his own game after, is something special.
"It was a lot of fun," Lillard said of his Vegas training camp experience with Rose last month. "Not only to play against him but to play with him, to watch his habits. I think it's a great thing for a guy coming up in this league to be able to play with and against a guy who's been an MVP, been to the conference finals. Who's been as successful as he's been. You want that same thing for yourself. I think that's great."
Lillard, who was drafted sixth overall in 2012 out of Weber State, acknowledged during his rookie year that he watched a lot of tape of Rose's game before coming into the NBA. Lillard appreciated how quick and explosive the Bulls' point guard was to the rim. Given Rose's struggles to stay on the court the past few seasons, limiting him to just 49 games in the last three seasons, Lillard was waiting to see how Rose looked.
The early returns have been great.
"He looks healthy," Lillard said. "He looks just as explosive as he was. He doesn't look like he's lost any of that explosiveness. Obviously, the rhythm and just everything hasn't come back [yet]. I think you got to play more and at this level [of] competition get completely back as far as game-wise. But he looked good. He looked like he was right on track to still be Derrick Rose."
Rose finds it a bit strange to have been in the NBA long enough now to have players such as Lillard following in his footsteps.
"It's weird playing against younger players," Rose said. "This is going on my seventh year so it's kind of weird. I'm not old, but at the same time I'm older than a lot of players that's here. I've been doing the Select Team and USA Basketball ever since I got in the league so I've been around for a long time. I'm happy I didn't lose sight of all my goals."
Rose's biggest one this year is proving he can stay on the floor. Thanks to two knee surgeries, he played in just 10 games over the past two seasons. As the years have gone by Rose has matured in different areas, including taking much better care of his body, a pearl of wisdom he wants to give to younger players.
"It's totally different," Rose said of his physical preparation. "Waking up making sure that I'm hydrated, drinking six to eight bottles of water every day. Things that I thought I would never do: Eating, taking supplements, just for my blood flow, just everything. Stretching at night, using a band, using a roller, just becoming a professional. When I remember being in my rookie year and I used to see all the older players stretching and using trainers to stretch them I didn't think nothing about it. But now I'm kind of mad because I didn't take advantage of it when I was younger.
"Whenever I talk to these younger players I try to tell them, get the maintenance on your body. Get massages. Make sure you're always getting treatment because you're going to need it for this long career."
Lillard says the pair have had some casual conversations over the past couple years but nothing too in depth up to this point. Still, the 24-year-old Lillard, a former Rookie of the Year himself, appreciates the position he's been put in alongside one of the players he watched before coming to the league. That point is underscored by the fact that Lillard, like Rose, has become one of the global faces for Adidas basketball over the past year.
"It's special," Lillard said. "That I could be one of the faces of a brand alongside him and help push that brand and kind of try to make it bigger. And have people gravitate towards his story, my story and that whole Adidas brand. I think that's great for myself."