I started having access to the Raptors when Demar DeRozan arrived on the scene. Prior to experiencing it for myself I was told what a great kid he was. I remember watching him just fooling around after a training camp practice and being totally in awe of how this kid could fly. I would sit down with him that day and talk, both of us were a bit more reserved in our conversation. Demar was getting use to life in the NBA and I was waiting for someone to tell me that's it your out of here.
Thankfully no one has said that to me. I would also get to know someone who no one really knew much about when he came here in Sonny Weems. One of the coolest things that I have got to see in the past couple years is the special relationship between DeRozan and Weems. They had a great friendship and had fun and competed at just about anything. Weems decided to take his talents to Europe instead of waiting to see how the NBA Lockout played out. But the friendship still continues long distance.
"I have been trying to talk to him as much as I can," DeRozan said. "He has been playing well and I am trying to keep up with him and he definitely misses being here." In terms of the future this could be just a year apart for the two. The Raptors did tender a qualifying offer for Weems and would hold his rights if and when he decided to return to the NBA. That being said with the addition of Forbes and Johnson both under contract beyond this season and in addition to Kleiza it could be tough for Weems fitting in this roster. But no matter where he is playing he will always have DeRozan in his corner and vice versa.
In terms of year three for DeRozan the goals remain the same. " I got two years of experience and I am just trying to learn and understand what it takes to win and help my team win." Part of helping him do that will be Raptors new head coach Dwane Casey who DeRozan was familiar with from working with him at camps in Vegas in the off-season in prior to Casey's arrival in Toronto. "He is a hands on guy and gave me a lot of pointers." According to DeRozan, "It is just a blessing to have him as our head coach now." It obviously was a plus for Casey having two years of working with Demar in Vegas when he was considered for this job in Toronto. He also obviously has the respect of Demar and by the sound of things in training camp the rest of this roster as well.
"Everything is still the same ain't nothing changed with me just trying to get better on that basketball court." DeRozan stated. He might not have changed but everything around him clearly has. He was the guy addressing the fans at the end of last season and he was the guy that welcomed them back. There can be some debate as to who the franchise player is on the court but off the floor the face of the Toronto Raptors is clearly that of Demar DeRozan. Not to mention the fan base that have many wanting to see him take the reigns as the leader of this franchise. A lot to ask of a young man that would be a senior at USC in a different era. But in this modern world of the NBA it is all about making an impact sooner rather than later. The patience of letting a player grow and mature is not what it once was. However the Raptors have done a decent job of that with DeRozan.
DeRozan has always been praised for his work ethic and among the new things he brings to the table for year three is improved range and a better three point shot. This has always been a personal concern of mine. People have been saying about how DeRozan needs to develop that ability to shoot from long range. However, we all saw Vince Carter develop his range and fall hopeless in love with the three point shot, thus losing some of the aggressive driving nature that made him what he was. No chance of DeRozan ever saying dunking is over rated though. He feels his new found range can be a weapon to help him drive to the basket once people respect he can make that shot. "Definitely, I am just adding more weapons to my game and building on it."
Is this new focus on defence going to take some time to get their energy balanced on both ends? DeRozan doesn't think so, "Not at all, there is no way you can prepare for in game shape. It is different from practising and playing against each other all day. I think once we get in the rhythm of going up and down on offence and defence we will get the hang of it." time for that will be short with the season less than a week away. After that, this challenging schedule than kicks in and that is a challenge of it's own. But DeRozan is not looking at it any differently and plans to approach it the same way. "Everybody has been playing this game along time and you approach it as a professional and you just understand what you gotta do and you go out there," DeRozan continues his thoughts on challenge of the schedule, " I approach it like any other season, come in prepared mentally and physically ready and take on the challenge."
To be young and have energy to not sweat this schedule. I am not sure some older guys will look at it the same way. We all heard the comments of Kevin Garnett on the schedule and he seemed to have much more of a problem with it. But even if this was a normal season with a normal schedule it was always going to be a challenge for the Raptors. Demar DeRozan seems ready to accept that challenge head on. We all wait and wonder just how well he will do in his attempt. This will be a big year in terms of how DeRozan is viewed going forward. Can he take it to that next level and be considered a star and the leader of his team or will he just be a good player that continues to improve but requires some people to help him take a team to the next level. Time will tell but there is no question that DeRozan still has the potential for a lot of improvement and growth and has yet to reach the apex of his talent.
Up to this point it has been fun to have a front row seat for the ride. Demar says he is still the same and in many ways he is. But there seems to be a greater understanding of where he is in his journey and a more focused and determined approach. His connection to the fans has given him a ton of support that he openly acknowledges and seems to feed off of it. We have seen it all before with others in the past. But the hope is this ride has a much more positive ending for both fans and DeRozan.