MacKenzie: Tracking DeRozan Since Day One

Holly MacKenzie - Raptors.com

There has been a lot of DeMar DeRozan news on this site over the offseason, but it’s hard to not call attention to the work he puts in each summer. DeRozan has raised his profile around the league in each of his first five seasons. As his dedication is starting to pay off, those of us who have watched him work can only be happy for him.

I moved to Toronto in the fall of 2008. I hadn’t a clue where my writing path was going to take me, whether I would remain in Toronto forever or not be able to last longer than the few months worth of savings’ I’d brought with me would allow. Over the course of that first NBA season in the city, I covered sporadic Toronto Raptors games, became very familiar with Air Canada Centre and didn’t learn much about the city because the majority of my time was spent watching League Pass and writing basketball things.


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After the Raptors failed to make the playoffs that year — the first of five consecutive seasons that ended in mid-April — draft workouts helped to lessen the sting of the season being over. That year, of course, was the year that DeRozan came through for an individual workout with the team. Donning black shorts and a black compression shirt, he went through drills for the front office and coaching staff and then spoke with the Toronto media. Praised for his potential and athleticism, he was shy when speaking with us. 

On draft night, DeRozan spent much of his time sitting in the green room furiously checking his BlackBerry. After he was selected, the 18-year-old from Compton tried to wrap his head around heading to Canada, experiencing winters and playing for Vince Carter’s first team.

Over the next five years, DeRozan has had his ups and downs, but remained steadfast in his devotion to getting the Raptors back to the postseason and back on everyone’s radar. He matured from the quiet kid starting alongside Chris Bosh, Hedo Turkoglu, Andrea Bargnani and Jose Calderon into a locker room leader that younger players shadow to learn about being a professional in this league. He has become a key piece of this team’s identity.


As each year ended, DeRozan recommitted to his pledge to be part of getting the Raptors franchise back on track. When players went their separate ways each summer, his tireless workouts began. Watching the city come together to cheer on DeRozan and the Raptors as they made their playoff return was especially poignant knowing how hard he has worked to elevate his game to help the team succeed and how much the support meant to him.

From the crowds that filled the square — rain or shine, for home and away games — to the deafeningly loud fans in the ACC, like DeRozan, this was my first postseason experience. Writers and fans who had been around for the team’s last trips to the playoffs had all told me how overwhelming it would be: the emotions, the stakes being so high, the city rallying around and a team usually thought to be the little brother of the mighty Leafs. While their descriptions of the madness were accurate, they couldn’t begin to capture the fire of Raptors fans in the playoffs.

The city showed a level of support that was incredible, the players matched their intensity. When DeRozan and his teammates spoke of the confidence they had in themselves, it was because of the losing, the tough times, the trades and trade rumours that bonded their locker room together. 

The series against Brooklyn provided many opportunities to look back at the previous five seasons and reflect on the many personnel changes, the ups and downs, disappointments and individual successes and be able to appreciate all of the work that goes into a team making it to the playoffs. Thinking back to that first year, the only piece of the puzzle that remains is DeRozan. Amir Johnson was traded to Toronto that summer, but this is an entirely different team from top to bottom than the one DeRozan was drafted to in 2009. 

Perhaps the best part of following DeRozan’s journey has been all that has stayed the same. For everything that has changed about his situation — the teammates, his contract, his All-Star status and growing from young man to father of an impossibly adorable one-year-old daughter — he’s still that genuine hoops head who promised to give everything to the team that drafted him.