Of all the various sentiments swirling around in Derrick Rose's mind since suffering his second major knee injury in less than two years, there's one that provides both the greatest hope and the deepest despair: familiarity.
Fear, doubt, resolve, anger, determination and self-pity have all probably occupied D-Rose's thoughts since he tore his right meniscus against the Portland Trail Blazers on Nov. 22. But the knowledge that he's been in this position before must be simultaneously comforting and soul-crushing.
On the one hand, Rose knows he can recover from a serious injury. On the other, he knows how insanely difficult that task is.
In truth, nobody can really know what's going on in Rose's mind. He hasn't let anyone in on his thoughts since the injury. He didn't talk after he left the arena on crutches, he kept silent following successful surgery and he'll probably stay quiet for a good long while.
But we can look to other sources for information on his mental state.
I talked to him at length (Saturday) night. He's in good spirits, about as well as can be expected under the circumstances. And he's already thinking about his rehab. Typical Derrick, he's concerned about his team, his teammates. He's such a great teammate along with being a great player. That being said, we can't feel sorry for ourselves.
It's not really surprising that Thibs is painting a positive picture of Rose's mental state. Thibodeau has such a hard-nosed reputation that even if Rose had been feeling a little distraught, he never would have confided in his no-nonsense coach.
Still, Thibodeau alluded to a key component of Rose's makeup that should aid in his recovery.
Per Johnson, he said:
I think his mental toughness is going to serve him well. Whenever he has faced any adversity, his mental toughness has gotten him through. I could tell talking to him (Saturday) night there was a resolve and determination. We expect him to make a full recovery. It's another bump in the road. He'll get past it.
Calling Rose's injury a "bump in the road" is understating things a bit. But that's what we should expect from Thibodeau. If the coach's ultra-tough approach has rubbed off on Rose, it'll probably be for the best. And if we take Thibs at his word, it sounds like D-Rose is applying the same attack-mode attitude to this injury as he did the last one.
That's a positive sign.
The recently retired Grant Hill talked with Johnson for another article just a few days before Rose's latest injury, and he provided some insight into the mental struggles that accompany repeated physical setbacks:
What I do know from going through it is you have to regain that trust and belief in your body. Your body betrayed you when it never had done that before. Psychologically, that can mess with you.
I still had faith and thought I could get back when probably everyone thought I should have retired. Maybe it was stupid to feel that way because over (those) four years, I was beaten down. All those setbacks and disappointments, it eats away at your athletic ego.
I just know it's a process.
Keep in mind that Hill made those comments before Rose tore his meniscus. Whatever difficulties he faces now will require double the psychological strength Hill described.
Brandon Roy is also no stranger to repeated injuries. His career ended because of persistent knee troubles, and although his comments to John Canzano of The Oregonian back in 2011 don't reflect what Rose might be thinking right this second, they offer insight into the future adjustments he'll soon have to contemplate.
Per Canzano, Roy said:
I'm trying to figure out when I'm supposed to take a shot, and when I'm supposed to distribute. I want to be aggressive, but I don't want to be out of character. I've gone from being the first option to being a fourth option. If this was easy, I would have already figured it out.
Maybe an altered role isn't something Rose is currently worrying over. But when Roy's injuries started to pile up, he probably never envisioned being a fourth option, either. That kind of uncertainty could be creeping into Rose's mind at this early stage.
Rash thoughts might also be making their way into his inner dialogue, too. Nobody's saying Rose would ever entertain the idea of seeking out a chemical advantage, but as Tracy McGrady said on NBA TV's Open Court, mounting injuries can lead formerly great players to consider some pretty dark thoughts:
Let's hope it never comes to that for Rose.
Art Rondeau is a certified trainer in Neuro-Linguistic Programming who specializes in improving the mental performance of elite athletes. He's worked with everyone from NBA stars to Olympians.
Though he hasn't personally spoken to Rose since the injury, he was nice enough to offer B/R his thoughts on where the point guard's head might be at right now.
Still just days removed from surgery, it's far too early for Rose to start piecing together a comprehensive rehabilitation plan. But Rondeau isolated two vital components of Rose's mental recovery that have to start right away:
It'll depend on what's going to work best for him, individually. But I think one important thing is the certainty that he is going to come back. That's a very big deal. ... He doesn't want to 'hope' that he's going to make it. He needs to be certain that he can make it. ... He'll also need patience. If he has those two things right now, that'll be a good start for him.
And while it might seem like a daunting task for Rose to establish any sort of certainty about his rehabilitation at this early stage, Rondeau pointed out that the point guard has a key reference point that should bolster his confidence:
While there might be frustration, there's also going to be a sense of hopefulness because he's already (come back) once before.
The one thing that he's got in this area that is huge is the reference experience. He knows that he can come back from a serious injury, even a more serious injury. He knows he's tough enough, he knows he's strong enough. And he knows that if he follows his rehabilitation guidelines that he will be able to get back on the court.
It's kind of like climbing up a hill. When you get to the top, you put your hand up, and then, just as you're almost over the ledge, you slide back down. You know you can make it, and you don't want to have to go through that climb again. But this time, when you go back up, you realize there are a couple things you can do a little bit differently that might make it easier.
One thing that will be different this time around is the severity of Rose's injury. A torn meniscus is a serious thing, but it's not quite as career-threatening as a ruptured ACL. In addition, the Bulls appear to be handling Rose's return with much more caution. Rondeau thinks that's a wise move that could help put Rose's mind at ease:
(The Bulls) have taken a lot off the table right away because they've said he's out for the season. That's going to help him quite a bit. It's going to take a lot of the pressure off of him, which, in and of itself, is going to help.
Without question, ruling Rose out for the year should help him avoid the constant scrutiny from critics who believe he's taking too long to return. That was an issue last season. Hopefully those kinds of outside influences won't plague Rose's mind this time around.
Maybe I'm too much of a pessimist, but I was curious about whether Rondeau thought Rose might succumb to despair. After all, if it were me in Rose's situation, I'd be feeling pretty sorry for myself. I guess I shouldn't have been surprised when Rondeau opined that the famously hardy Rose was made of sterner stuff:
I would be very surprised if Rose got anywhere close to (despair). My guess is that he may have a few bad days early on, but following that, I would not expect him to despair because he's got that reference experience that he can come back.
In closing, Rondeau mentioned an important mental distinction that Rose will have to make in his upcoming rehabilitation process:
It's one thing to say, 'I've had two injuries.' It's another thing to say, 'I am injury-prone.' Those two statements are very different things in terms of the way the brain processes them.
If Derrick adopts the mindset that his injuries were out of the blue and there's a very low percentage chance that they could happen, that could be a big positive.
The Waiting Game
Nobody will know how Rose really feels about his latest injury until he opens up to the media. Based on the circus that he—and to a greater extent, the Bulls and his shoe company—started last year, it'd probably be best if he continued to stay out of the news cycle for as long as possible.
But eventually, he'll let us in on what he's thinking.
For my money, I'm expecting to see the same confident, resolute Rose that made it back from injury once before. Whether he'll ever be the same player again is another question. It's possible that his body won't allow that to happen.
Mentally, though, D-Rose has the tools to come back stronger than ever.