The first time I ever heard DeMar DeRozan was in May of 2009, when he was interviewed by Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld and others at the Chicago Pre-Draft Camp. He had just averaged 14 points and 5.7 rebounds as a freshman at USC and decided to declare for the NBA Draft. During this pre-draft camp, he bragged that he could jump higher than Vince Carter, he said his game compared to no one in the NBA, and he mentioned that he followed the Wizards because of his friendship with Washington guard Nick Young–who also attended USC.
The Wizards ended up trading their lottery pick that year, and DeRozan was drafted ninth overall by the Toronto Raptors.
The first time I actually met DeRozan was during the 2010 All-Star weekend in Dallas. He had just won the “Dunk-In Contest”, which meant he could compete in the actual Dunk Contest (where he was the runner-up to Nate Robinson). The then-rookie was excited to be getting the exposure that comes with participating in All-Star weekend, and he was looking forward to soaking in as much of it as possible. I distinctly remember DeRozan saying, “USC baby!” as he walked away from the media, but I never thought to explore the relationship among the two Trojans, DeRozan and Young.
Shortly before the Raptors-Wizards game last night, I decided to do a bit of investigative journalism to find out more about this bond between the two players. My timing could not have been better, because DeRozan was coming off an impressive two-game stretch that saw him score a career-high 26 points in the Raptors’ victory over the Orlando Magic, and 21 points in a close loss to the Miami Heat.
I asked DeRozan about how he met Nick Young, how their friendship has evolved, and about his raised level of play as of late:
Rashad Mobley: How did you first meet Nick Young?
DeMar DeRozan: “Come on man, all us L.A. ballers know each other. He was an L.A. guy and growing up, I always knew who he was since he was one of the top high school players, and then I would always run into him. I think everyone back home who’s big in sports–especially basketball–makes a point to know each other.”
RM: And you all have maintained a relationship since then?
DD: Oh yeah, we were cool before I went to [U]SC, we’re cool when he comes home for the summer. He gives me advice on and off the court, he’s just a good dude. We also play against each other in a little league back home (Kyle Weidie wrote a post on this in June of 2009), and we’re also going hard at one another. JaVale [McGee] is in that league, Amir [Johnson] is there, James Harden from the Oklahoma City, O.J. Mayo, Baron Davis, a lot of people come out and play.
RM: How would you say Nick’s game has improved since you initially met him?
DD: “Well one, he’s gotten stronger in terms of upper body strength, so that’s the first thing you notice. But his game is crazy, I used to watch and study him when he was at SC, and even in high school. He always got better, he always added a move here and there. He’s always been an offensive threat, always.”
RM: What about defense?
DD: (laughs) “He’s always been an offensive threat.”
RM: I talked to you earlier this year at the Slam Dunk contest, and that may have been the first time you had gotten serious national exposure. What did that experience do for your game on the court and your life off of it?
DD: “I think the Dunk Contest for someone like me was important because it put me on the main stage and it gave me confidence. I was playing okay before then, but afterward I felt like I had even more to prove. Plus, more people recognized me from being on TNT, and that’s important because I’m sure a lot of folks don’t get to see our [Raptors] games.”
RM: Speaking of confidence, you seem to be playing even better as of late, what do you attribute that to?
DD: “It’s confidence man, it’s getting more comfortable in the offense and knowing what I gotta do when I’m out there. After a year under my belt, I know what to expect and I don’t second guess anything anymore.”
DeRozan had a relatively quiet game last night against the Wizards with just 12 points in 31 minutes of play. His friend Nick Young had anything but a quiet game with 20 points and six rebounds in just 29 minutes. After the game, fellow Truth About It reporter, John Townsend, talked to Young about his relationship with DeRozan.