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“We all knew how good he could be,” veteran forward Luol Deng said. “It’s a big surprise for all of us how quick he got there. We knew he was going to get there; we said that from the start. He’s just a hard worker, a humble kid. He’s really out there just to win games.”

In the postseason, he’s been just as impressive.

He scored 39 and 36 points in the first two playoff games against Indiana. Then he shook off two sub-par performances and a sprained left ankle to score 25 points in Game 5 as the top-seeded Bulls closed out what had been a tight first-round series with a 116-89 victory.

They stumbled in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against Atlanta, losing 103-95. Rose scored 24 points, but he hit just 11 of 27 shots and did not attempt a free throw. He also limped off the court after twisting his left ankle, but expects to be ready for Game 2 on Wednesday.

It’s been a rapid, steady climb for a player who came into the league with soaring expectations. He helped Simeon Career Academy become the first Chicago Public League team to win back-to-back state championships, then led Memphis to the NCAA championship game before the Bulls drafted him with the No. 1 pick in 2008 after defying 1.7-percent odds to win the lottery.

“I’ll never forget the morning after we got that pick where we got the entire management staff together to meet,” general manager Gar Forman said.

They knew then who they were picking.

And when they started talking to him, Forman said, “It was obvious to us that not only was Derrick a very special talent, but he possessed the intangibles that you need to become a very special player in this league. Going into that draft, I remember our feeling was this is too good to be true.”

Now?

“Our feeling is still this is really too good to be true,” Forman said.

Rose has added new touches to his game every season, expanding the range on his jumper to go with those explosive drives to the basket.

“He’s been everything you could ask for,” coach Tom Thibodeau said. “He’s been a leader, a player. He’s only going to get better.”