I joined the media sccrum around Chicago Bulls All-Star point guard Derrick Rose prior to his team's game against the Orlando Magic.
Rose didn't hesitate when one reporter asked him if he considers the Bulls "contenders" in the Eastern Conference, cutting him off with a confident "Definitely." The reporter followed-up with "You're there?"
"Yeah, we're there," Rose said, with no trace of bravado. The third-year point guard is trying to become a more vocal leader after his experience with Team USA this summer, and it's showing in his confident demeanor.
While the Bulls added double-double machine Carlos Boozer to their promising mix this summer, they run the risk of being overlooked, given what the other Eastern teams accomplished. Rose doesn't mind, though.
"If anything, that's a good thing, so when we start winning... we don't need anybody trying to get on our bandwagon," Rose said. "We're just going to continue to go out there and play hard, just let teams know every time they play us it's going to be a tough, hard game."
The Bulls are indeed aiming to be a tougher team, which is reflected in their decision to hire hotheaded, defense-first head coach Tom Thibodeau. Asked about the differences between Thibodeau and his predecessor, Vinny Del Negro, Rose said "He goes over every detail," also listing Thibodeau's willingness to listen to players' suggestions as another positive.
And Rose is adamant that he's trying to become the best player he can be, twice saying "there's no point in playing the game if you're not trying to be the best."
He didn't have much to do against the Magic last season, as fellow adidas endorser and good friend Dwight Howard knocked him to the floor, and out of the game, on two separate occasions. But in the one game he managed to finish, he led the Bulls to an impressive 101-93 win, tallying 30 points, 6 rebounds, and 7 assists in an outstanding effort.