USAB Camp Equal Parts Honour, Opportunity For DeRozan

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Holly MacKenzie - Raptors.com

Any doubt about the intensity of USA Basketball practices was erased when a Klay Thompson elbow clipped DeMar DeRozan in the face. With assistant coach Tom Thibodeau screaming at DeRozan — and the rest of his team — to step up their efforts on defence during Monday afternoon’s scrimmage, DeRozan draped himself over Thompson and was rewarded with a direct (unintentional) hit. Knocked to the ground almost immediately, droplets of blood splayed across the court as his teammates picked him up and he went to the bench to have a trainer pack his nose with tissue to stop the bleeding.

“It’s cool,” DeRozan said as he sent a trainer to get more ice for him after the practice finished. “Ain’t nothing to it.”

Being named a first-time All-Star before leading the Toronto Raptors to the postseason for the first time in five seasons, this is a big summer for the 24-year-old swingman. With general manager Masai Ujiri re-signing the core to this year’s team in the first weeks of the offseason, DeRozan is eager to press fast forward and get to training camp.

“Honestly, it’s been eating away at me since Game 7,” DeRozan said. “Just to get back out there, to play and work, get back competing at a high level. We’re still dwelling on that Game 7 loss. We just want to get back out there. We still feel like we have a lot to prove, for myself and I feel I can speak for my teammates as well.”

Photo Gallery: DeRozan At USAB Training Camp

DeRozan’s gym rat tendencies have been well documented over the years. After reaching the postseason for the first time in his career, his offseason approach hasn’t changed. Spending time in both Los Angeles and Las Vegas to train, he also spent a week in Houston working on post moves with Hakeem Olajuwon.

Mostly, he wants fans who are also hung up on that season-ending loss to know that he’s putting in work preparing for next season.

“Just that,” DeRozan said. “Nothing else. Nothing else. I try not to change routines at all. Stick to my schedule: Working, working, working. Working hard. Try to lead by example, continue to get better. You only get to do this for so long so every summer I try to get that much better and keep elevating myself and my teammates at the same time. Other than that, nothing else too special. Just work.”

DeRozan can’t wait for the opportunity to get another crack at the Eastern Conference with the same group that surprised outsiders last season. He’s ready to get things going now.

“I done played with damn near 60 players in [my first] five years in the league,” DeRozan said. “Every year, coming in having 10+ new players, you’ve got to learn new guys, they have to learn the system. It’s big personally [to have everyone come back]. The chemistry that we had was definitely amazing.”

From the rookie who was thrown into the fire as an immediate starter, to the All-Star he developed into this past season, DeRozan has matured into a leader his teammates trust to guide them.

“It’s about to be my sixth year,” DeRozan said. “It seems like yesterday was my rookie year, honestly. It’s really crazy how fast time goes by. That’s another reason why I work so hard. When you look at it, time does go by so fast. You don't want to have a wasted day or a wasted opportunity to do something to better yourself. It’s just crazy now. People really are going to look toward me to be that older vet. There’s really no more young guy, whatever you want to call it. I real have to take that onus upon myself. I’m a veteran player now.”

Spending time in L.A. working out with Terrence Ross, Jonas Valanciunas, Amir Johnson and rookies Bruno Caboclo and DeAndre Daniels in July, DeRozan has been able to observe how his teammates look to him to set the tone of their workouts. 

The respect he has earned through his work ethic isn’t something he takes lightly.

“That’s why I work so hard, so I can lead by example,” DeRozan said. “They can see that. I remember as a young guy, seeing other older players work hard and it made me feel insecure about myself if I missed a day, if I didn’t work out or skip a day. Once you have that instilled in your teammates and players around you, that can only make you better as a whole.”

Gesturing around the gym at various players he had grown up playing with years before his NBA dreams came true, DeRozan — who wore a Toronto Blue Jays hat in Vegas on Sunday afternoon — is grateful for all that his career has given him thus far.

“It’s a big deal for me because I kind of represent my country and the country of Canada,” DeRozan said. “I get to show off the two countries that root for me. It’s always fun just to be mentioned in a pool of players that are able to make your country’s team and represent them. It’s a great honour.”