By Mike McGraw
A simple conversation with Bulls forward Taj Gibson took all kinds of crazy turns.
Gibson had his best game of the preseason Friday when the Bulls beat Minnesota 92-81 at the United Center. Besides producing 12 points and 11 rebounds, the fourth-year power forward dunked the ball in traffic and sent away 3 blocked shots
Asked if he did anything during the summer that made him quicker off his feet, Gibson suggested it's amazing he can stand at all after what he's been through since Camp Thibodeau opened Oct. 2.
"Thibs' practices are no joke," Gibson said. "At times, I'm like, 'Aw man,' because I come in early to be with the second group, so we can run through plays like 20 or 30 minutes before practice. I've got to be there early. So it's a grind, but it's all for the better of the team."
The actual practices are typically three hours long, followed by roughly 45 minutes of extra shooting.
Then the subject shifted briefly to the highlight of Gibson's basketball summer -- playing with the U.S. Select squad that scrimmaged against Team USA before the Olympics.
"It was great, going against 'Melo (Carmelo Anthony) every day, going against Kevin Love every day," Gibson said. "You name it, they were there. It was great, just competing.
"When you're getting shots in the NBA, it's good. Being in USA camp, going against those guys, you really worship your shots. Guys would be happy if they get at least 2 points, 4 points."
Even while he was in Las Vegas during Team USA training camp, Gibson didn't get a vacation from Thibodeau.
"Thibs called me every other day, just calling to check on me to see if I'm playing," he said. "I always talked to him for at least an hour, hour and a half."
So what's more difficult, playing against Team USA's collection of NBA all-stars or enduring Bulls training camp with Thibodeau?
"Thibs," Gibson answered with a laugh. "U.S. Select, we would just get shots, run up and down. They'd just call us up and then we'd just go after it (in a scrimmage). It was more physical, but I'd have to say Thibs' practice (is tougher).
"You've got to really stretch a lot before Thibs' practice. I've seen guys come in and within 20 minutes, drop their jerseys and leave. That's how serious it is. I'm happy Nazr (Mohammed) didn't break down yet."
It wasn't clear what players have abandoned a Thibodeau workout. The 15 players on the Bulls' roster were present and accounted for Saturday at the Berto Center.
Speaking of Mohammed, the Bulls' 35-year-old backup center, Gibson compared his new teammate to Turkish center Omer Asik, who left for Houston as a free agent this summer.
"Having Nazr is great. It's like Omer is still there," Gibson said. "He's real familiar with everything. But he's more back to the basket. You throw him the ball, let him go down (in the post), work. He helps me a lot, just from the standpoint of being a veteran.
"He's more talkative. Omer, he wasn't too talkative at times, but he would always be there. Nazr is more talkative, knows the scheme of things."
Gibson also appreciated getting to know the Olympic coaches, such as Mike Krzyzewski and Jim Boeheim. Those coaches were more focused on the U.S. varsity squad, but Gibson nonetheless felt appreciated.
"They would always talk to me like, 'Just keep working,'" he said. "They always said they loved the way I'm playing, I'm having a good showing in camp and they looked forward to seeing me have a big year -- the way I was competing, the way I was defending, the way I was hitting the jump shot, the way I was throwing to the post.
"In USA camp, there's no foul calls. Everything is strong, with contact to the basket, going with two hands. It was a great experience."
And just one more week left in the preseason experience. There's light at the end of the tunnel for all hardworking Bulls.