If you think Derrick Rose is being less than sincere when he blames himself for the Bulls being eliminated by the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals, you don’t know Rose. You can see the regret in the reigning MVP’s eyes and hear it in his voice when he talks about how he let his teammates down.
Rob McClanaghan witnessed his regret six days a week for four months while working out with Rose during the offseason.
“You could tell every single time he worked out that that was in the back of his mind,” said McClanaghan, who serves as a personal trainer to Rose and other NBA players. “It motivated him even more, and I didn’t think that was possible. Winning the MVP was great, but that’s not his goal. He got a taste of it last year. He wants that ring.”
Rose believes fatigue was a factor, and that’s why he worked on conditioning this summer like never before. Like many NBA players, he traveled the world for a variety of reasons, but always with a gym bag in hand. He worked on his game in Hawaii, did roadwork in China, had late-night sessions on the treadmill in Spain. He never stopped running, not even while relaxing in a jacuzzi in Bora Bora.
“He’s all over the place like most of these guys in the offseason, but wherever he goes, he works, he studies, he watches film,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “When he was with Team USA, it wasn’t just what he was doing in practice every day. It was his commitment to extra shooting after, getting there early, being ready to play, and he does that year-round. You know he’s going to get better with his approach.”
McClanaghan played at Syracuse and was an assistant at South Florida when he started working out high school and college players on the side. His tailor-made workouts are designed specifically to not only improve strength and endurance but to enhance specific basketball skills. Eventually, it became a career.
Last year, they worked on Rose’s jumper; this year, it was his post-up game and pull-up jumper. They worked on ways Rose could defeat the collapsing defense the Heat used against him. McClanaghan even hit Rose with pads as he drove to the hoop so he would be better able to finish after contact.
“You have some guys out there that train guys just for the pay,” Rose said. “With Rob, it’s about more than him getting a check. It’s about getting better. Anybody who has worked out with him knows it’s all about basketball, and that’s it. He played the game. He’s always watching the game. He played with a lot of great players. I can talk to him about things on the floor.”
Rose was 17 when he met McClanaghan. They have worked out every summer since, but their relationship has evolved beyond trainer-athlete. They text, they call. It’s almost always about the game. Center Joakim Noah even joined the two for 10 days of workouts in Los Angeles this summer.
“My habits at [Rose’s] age in the summer were just horrible compared to the way he is,” Noah said. “He has had Rob with him since the beginning. It really helped [Rose] stay organized. From the beginning, with his brothers, he really has had a good circle around him and a good understanding of what he needs to be the best.”
McClanaghan didn’t think it was possible for Rose to have a more productive offseason than he had last year, but Rose proved him wrong. The lockout and Rose having no national-team obligations allowed him to meet McClanaghan at the gym day after day for months.
The memory of losing to the Heat was always the fuel.
“I put that all on me, me not making the right decisions, me not knowing the clock, decision- making, turnovers. It really got to me and hurt the team,” Rose said. “When I looked at film, there were lots of plays where I could’ve made the extra pass. I know my basketball IQ got higher. If it happens again where they over-help like that, we’ll have something for them.”
McClanaghan believes Rose can turn the loss into a positive. He knows what it takes now, knows what he must do to improve and has ample motivation.
“You would think a guy who is 22 years old and is the MVP of his hometown city would be a little cocky,” McClanaghan said. “But he just gets more humble.”