February 9, 2014 by Russell Simon
USC’s DeMar DeRozan, an All-Star for the Toronto Raptors, was in town recently to play the Los Angeles Clippers. A profile on DeRozan and his success this season follows, with quotes from Russell Simon’s interview with DeRozan at Staples Center. CLICK HERE for a recap of the game, in which DeRozan exploded for 36 points.
By Russell Simon
Ten minutes after the Clippers’ 118-105 victory over the Toronto Raptors Friday Night at Staples Center, Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan sat forlornly at his locker, his feet immersed in an ice bucket. A bruising West Coast road trip for Toronto had just come to a close, after the Raptors suffered back-to-back losses to the Kings and Clippers. Despite the tough end to their trip, the Raptors (26-24) are in first place in the Atlantic with a week to go until All-Star weekend. The team that entered the season with a new general manager in Masai Ujiri and a long-term plan that centered around shedding current assets to stockpile future draft picks is surprisingly in the middle of a playoff push. The Raptors’ success is largely due to the emergence of former Trojan DeMar DeRozan, who will be playing in his first All-Star game next weekend.
“I’m excited just to be a part of it,” DeRozan told Galen Central prior to tip-off on Friday. “Everybody doesn’t get the chance to be an All-Star throughout their career, so it is definitely big.”
DeRozan has grown accustomed to participating in All-Star Saturday Night, especially the dunk contest. But he knows this upcoming All-Star Game experience will be different from anything he has experienced before.
“It’s going to be extremely different just being out there with the league’s best,” he said. “To play in a game that everyone in the world watches, it’s definitely going to be fun, but at the same time I will be a little nervous.”
The Compton native who was once known mostly for his ability to finish at the rim has refined his offensive game this season and is having a career year. DeRozan is averaging career highs in points, rebounds, and assists, with 22 points per game, 4 assists and 4.6 rebounds. He had a career-high 40 points in the Raptors win over the Mavericks on January 23rd. He’s also stepped up since the Raptors traded Rudy Gay to Sacramento. The Raptors are 18-12 since the December 8th trade and DeRozan has averaged an extra point, rebound and assist per game compared to his season average, while playing an average of 37 minutes per night. He has also emerged as a very efficient scorer, doing all of that on an average of only 18.5 shots per game. Raptors coach Dwane Casey has noticed Derozan’s improved offensive efficiency.
“He’s become a veteran in the league,” Casey said. “It’s his fifth year, he’s more efficient offensively and he doesn’t take as many volume shots. His experiences have really helped him a lot. Father Time has been good to him.”
DeRozan agreed with Casey that his year in year out work was what allowed him to finally make the jump to an All-Star.
“I can’t really say when or where, it’s a continuous thing and a continuous work ethic that has allowed me to get here,” he said.
DeRozan had an All-Star performance on Friday night, where he matched Blake Griffin shot for shot and went for 36 points in his return to Los Angeles. DeRozan, who was a McDonalds All-American coming out of Compton High School, said he always looked forward to playing in front of family and friends in his return to Los Angeles.
“It’s definitely special,” he said. “This is where I grew up, high school, college, this is where I am from so it’s definitely fun to play in front of friends and family.”
DeRozan had plenty of opportunities to play in front of his family during his one year spent playing at the Galen Center for USC. DeRozan, who was named Pac-12 Tournament MVP in 2009 and was named to the Freshman First Team Pac-12, thrived in his one season in Troy. Along with fellow “Projans,” Trojans who have made the leap to the NBA, Taj Gibson and Nikola Vucevic, the Trojans made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament in 2009, where they lost to tournament runner-ups Michigan State. While he only spent one season with USC, DeRozan said he established strong friendships with both Gibson and Vucevic, and that all three players have remained close.
“They are still good friends of mine and I am still friends of theirs,” DeRozan said. “As much as I can I still watch them play, and even when we play against them it is always fun.”
DeRozan is the only one of those three Trojans to be named an All-Star, and he is also the first Trojan to play in the All-Star Game since Gus Williams did it with the Seattle SuperSonics 31 years ago. His appearance in the game comes after plenty of campaigning from Dwane Casey who said he spent the time before the All-Star reserves were announced advocating on DeRozan’s behalf.
“I know I campaigned with a lot of coaches, texting and calling and I am very happy for DeMar,” Casey said. “He works hard all year, here in Los Angeles in the summer to get better. He’s brought something new to the table every year.”
DeRozan’s progress has not come as a surprise to Jack Armstrong, who has been broadcasting the Raptors games for TSN for the last 16 years.
“He’s much better in terms of his low post game and he does a much better job of reading the defense and the game is really slowing down for him,” Armstrong said. “He’s gone from a guy who was an athletic talent to a guy who is a polished basketball player.”
DeRozan’s transformation into a polished basketball player will be evident on Sunday, when DeRozan will suit up to play in his first All-Star Game. He’ll be doing so representing a team that has transformed into a playoff contender, with cap room and draft picks to spare. The future is bright in Toronto, and All-Star DeMar DeRozan is still trying to wrap his mind around the present.
“You can think about (being an All-Star) when you are younger and everything,” he said. “But you really don’t understand how it feels until you go through it.”