DeMar DeRozan, Compton’s Canadian
There is virtually nothing in common between the cities of Compton and Toronto. Not only are they on opposite coasts and altogether different countries, but their climates and cultures are about as polar opposite as they come. Yet somehow, Toronto’s All-Star Shooting Guard navigates both like they are one and the same. Arriving in Toronto at the age of 19, the now 27-year-old DeRozan has grown up with Toronto, Drake and his team, the Raptors.
Growing up in California, you lived right across the street from your high school, Compton High, and went to USC for your freshman season after a McDonalds All-Star career. What inspired you to play so close to home?
Being from Compton, it’s always hard to fathom leaving at an early age and being away from your family and your comfort zone. I know I had an opportunity to pick a school I wanted to go to and SC was one of them. I just thought it would be cool to have an opportunity to play in front of my family at a high level of basketball. I always looked at it that if I did go to the NBA, there would be a good chance that I wouldn’t be in California anymore. So I tried to take my last advantage of playing at home.
Compton has such a rich history in basketball. Who were some of the top guys that you played with before making it into the NBA?
There are a lot of guys that are great basketball players from California. People may not know them, but back home they were legends to us doing what they did coming up through high school and college. Guys like James Harden, Klay Thompson, Russell Westbrook and so many guys from the LA area that did a lot for basketball. You have to have a chart so that you don’t miss anyone. You could go back to the Tyson Chandler days to our era of basketball.
Who were the legends and top guys that didn’t make it into the NBA that inspired you?
Kenny Brunner. A lot of people may not know who he is. He played with Tyson Chandler and was one of the best point guards to come out of LA. Bobby Brown, he played in the league for a couple of years, he’s still in Europe. Everytime I go home in the summer and play in the Drew League, it’s always good to see those guys that have that passion of basketball and still compete at a high level, even though it may not be the NBA.
Growing up, who were your early mentors both on and off the court?
I’ve always been a really family-oriented kind of guy. I’ve always stuck close with my family. That always kept me on the right track. Those were the people that were able to tell me if I was doing something wrong and corrected me on my mistakes.
THE LIFE OF AN NBA ROOKIE
After a short stop at USC where you played under coach Tim Floyd, you made the jump to the NBA and was eventually chosen by the Raptors with the ninth pick. As someone who spent his life in California, what was your initial reaction to being chosen and having to relocate to Canada?
Honestly, when I was coming in, I was nineteen when I got drafted. I didn’t know anything, but I didn’t want to make any mistakes. I didn’t understand how the business aspect of the league worked. My whole goal was how to come and fit in with all these grown men that had their own families and lives situated. They weren’t really worried about a nineteen year-old kid coming in. My approach was just trying to get better every single day as a rookie and do everything that I possibly could the right way. And I grew with it. I watched and observed everything that was going on.
What was your impression of Toronto when you arrived? Did you spend any time in the city beforehand?
I didn’t get a passport until I was pretty much drafted. But, it was a new scene for me. To this day, I think one of the best things to ever have happened to me was to get drafted here because it really helped me mature at a high level early on. I had to understand how to live by myself and really concentrate on basketball. That will teach you patience, how to grow up fast and how to learn new things. That’s what I needed.
Your first year here, who did you cling on to as a mentor?
One of the older guys that I looked up to was Jarrett Jack. He definitely is one of my closest friends to this day. He helped me a lot. He taught me what to look for, what to expect and how to get through the rough patches. It was the situational things that were going on with being in the NBA on and off the court. He helped me a lot.
Was he a part of any rookie hazing that you got subject to?
I don’t think I had any, to be honest. I think I had to do something one time and it wasn’t even that big. I was quiet, I listened to everybody.
Since 2009, Toronto has changed so much. Drake’s So Far Gone was just released and the city didn’t even know who Rob Ford was, yet. Today, Drake is an international star and the Global Ambassador for the Raptors, Toronto is booming and we’ve just hosted an amazing All-Star Weekend. What changes have you noticed the most and how have you embraced them?
I think everything to this day, in relation to the Raptors or with Drake, has been on the rise since then. It’s crazy to look back only to realize how far it came. It’s hard to explain it because I lived it. I’ve been on the inside looking out. It has definitely been a process and I’m happy for this city to be getting the recognition that it deserves. You hear people saying, “What’s Toronto like? I want to go to Toronto.” It’s definitely a cool thing.
Have you noticed a big change with the fans?
The fans have always stuck by us. I think about when the Maple Leafs were rolling, we were kind of second to them. But just to see a hockey town switch over to a basketball town, it definitely feels good. Looking back on our playoff series and having Jurassic Park, seeing all the fans out there supporting us was great. And now, with the We The North campaign and to see how far we have traveled to play preseason games all across the country, just to touch and see all of Canada’s fans? It says a lot that we are not just a city, we are a whole country.
What are some of your favourite parts of Toronto?
I usually get out a lot when my friends come here. We go to Wonderland, and what’s that one place in Mississauga that has go-carts? Playdium! We go around and do a whole lot of adventuring. This was early on, but now I’m just relaxing and enjoying the city.
In 2014 you made your first All-Star appearance and, had it not been for an injury last year, 2016 would have been three years in a row. What key factors went into developing your game to reach All-Star status?
It’s just about being the best player that I can be. And when I say that, it’s not as an individual, but in a way to make my teammates better when I step out on the court. It doesn’t happen with just yourself. Your teammates have to help you do it, and I try to go out there and make my teammates the best players they can be. It enhances my game. Every year I try to add something to my game and be a completely better player than I was the previous year.
What was the big thing this year that you added?
Just putting everything that I learned being in the league for seven years. The first five or six years, I was always adding something. This time around, it was just putting everything together.
What was it like when you found out that you had been selected to the All-Star team your first time around?
It was an honour. It was something that every kid dreams about. I grew up watching every All-Star Weekend, every Dunk Contest. When you get your name called out, it puts you in a different pool of players. It’s crazy to see your name on an All-Star jersey, and people supporting you with an All-Star jersey on. It’s very humbling, but at the same time it’s something that you know you made sacrifices for.
Was it any different when you heard Toronto was getting an All-Star Game?
I was more happy for the city, just to be able to get that recognition. People always have their own stigmas of Toronto, but this time around the world got to see what the city was like. Everyone enjoyed it. Everyone said it was the best All-Star Weekend that they had ever been to. So just to hear that was definitely big.
What was your favourite part?
I think just coming out and hearing your name called, and the reaction you get for being a hometown player — that’s something that I’ll never forget. And being there with Kyle [Lowry]. The year I made it, I thought he should’ve made it. And when he made it last year, I was injured. So this time around, for us to both be out there was definitely amazing.
WINNING BEYOND THE COURT
As your professional accomplishments mount on the court, those off of it seem to be in great shape as well. How has family grounded you in your day-to-day life?
The way I stay grounded and the way I get away from basketball is my daughter. She keeps me grounded. It’s teaching her the rights and wrongs of life. She helps me get away from basketball. She doesn’t care if I have a great game, all she’s worried about is if she has Play-Doh in her playroom. It’s just small things like that that make me happy. To stay up and watch cartoons with her or read a book to her, that’s the most joyful thing to me outside of basketball.
Aside from family time, how else do you like to spend your time off of the court?
It always changes up. I’m always trying to find something new to get into or to be a part of. For now, I’m reading books, watching documentaries —just interesting things that have nothing to do with sports to help me tune out.
Do you have any vision for your life after the game?
I think once you have that competitive nature as a basketball player, you can never be away from the game for too long. Even if you say you need to get away from it, you get right back into it somehow. I think it’s just in our nature.
Aside from bringing Toronto a Championship and forgetting the wins and losses on the court, what does winning mean to you?
Just making sacrifices. When you make sacrifices and you know you’re doing it for a good cause and with a genuine heart, things are always going to come back around in your favour.
Favourite player in the league (apart from Kobe Bryant and anyone on your team)? Stephen Curry
Most influential teammate or coach? Jarrett Jack
Favourite place to eat in Toronto and California? Playa Cabana in Toronto. Nobu in California.
Championship or Hall of Fame? Championship. When you get a Championship it’s easier to get into the Hall of Fame!