MacKenzie: DeRozan Doing Things The Right Way

Holly MacKenzie -

When DeMar DeRozan re-signed with the Toronto Raptors in July, it couldn’t have been a smoother process. After meeting with the Raptors — and only the Raptors — DeRozan and the team quickly hammered out details on a new five-year deal. The shooting guard enjoyed the rest of his evening with his family then went to bed, his alarm set for a standing early-morning workout alongside his younger Raptors teammates.

Roughly five months later, DeRozan passed Chris Bosh for first place on the franchise’s all-time scoring list. The newest franchise superlative adds to a growing list: games played, field goals made and, most important to DeRozan, wins. As the accolades continue to rack up, the work and dedicated DeRozan has shown from the earliest days of his draft process become all the more noteworthy. The development from rookie to rotation player to face of a franchise to All-Star, and now into one of the best scorers in the game, is the result of a tireless work ethic, powered by the steadfast belief that doing things the right way will pay off in time.

That work ethic is defined by waking up early after signing that five-year deal to get daily work in. It's tested and proven by finishing up a workout and then staying later to talk with teammate Norman Powell on offensive angles and openings. It is unmatched when rising before the sun in Rio, sneaking off the U.S. National team’s residence on a cruise ship, trainer and security in tow, to hunt down empty gyms before Olympic practice. When he’s not deep in individual skill work, DeRozan spends his summers as a sponge. Every meeting with a fellow player is a chance to learn, whether asking personal hero Kobe Bryant for whatever info he'll share, or U.S.A. teammate Kyrie Irving about finishing around the rim.

In his first two seasons with Toronto, DeRozan returned to the practice facility almost nightly to go through shooting drills. When defenders took advantage of his reluctance to use his left hand, he spent an offseason playing, eating, and brushing his teeth with that hand, forcing himself to become comfortable with what was once a weakness. Hiring a dribbling coach for daily workouts focusing on his handle was another step in his offensive progression. Every coach DeRozan has had raves about his patience for the grind.

“No question, it’s his work ethic [that allows him to continue to improve],” Tom Thibodeau, head coach of the Minnesota Timberwolves and assistant coach with Team USA said in July. “Obviously he’s talented. You can’t do what he’s done without a lot of talent, but I think it’s also his drive and his intelligence. That’s why each year, he’s gotten better and better. You can’t say enough about the way that he plays. Each aspect of his game has gotten better.”

Fast forward seven years and DeRozan has become a working model for players like Powell. Watching DeRozan going through workouts at game speed - and then watching him drill jumper after jumper in games as though he’s alone in an empty gym - has influenced how Powell himself practices. In recent years, the Raptors have talked about developing their culture and carving out an identity. DeRozan and backcourt mate Kyle Lowry are cementing both, as much through their play as their approach.

DeRozan’s dedication to the game is as well-documented as the “loyalty” tattoo on his wrist. With his “I am Toronto” declaration following his new contract in July, his dedication to the Raptors became part of national headlines and features written about his development. This isn’t anything new, though. Backtrack to June 2009 and DeRozan talking about heading to the city where he would begin his NBA career:

“I felt like the first day back home,” DeRozan said. “Felt like coming home again, ready to get to work, ready to get started. Let them know I’m here and that I’m a Toronto Raptor now.”

On the city: “I really didn’t know until I got out here for the [pre-draft] workout how wonderful this city is.”

Through DeRozan’s first few seasons in the league, with the Raptors rebuilding and seasons ending with more losses than wins, he pledged to be the guy that was here when things turned around. The idea of remaining with one team appealed to DeRozan, who grew up watching Bryant wear a Los Angeles Lakers uniform though his 20-year career.

After Bosh ended up in Miami in July 2010, DeRozan famously took to his Twitter account for a memorable declaration: “Don’t worry, I’ve got us”. Six years later, those words ring true.

To quote DeRozan himself, the day his new contract with the Raptors was announced:

“Every person who knows me knows if I’m in with you, I’m in it with you. If you call me to walk with you to the store on a rainy day, I’m going to walk with you, in the rain, to the store. Period. That’s just what type of person I am. That’s how I’ve always lived my life. Once I’m in with somebody, I’m in it.”

Last year, the Raptors stretched their season from April into May through six games against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals. In a late spring defeat, DeRozan only grew hungrier. As he spent his offseason training with the U.S. National team, then winning a gold medal in the Rio Olympics, his competitive fire burned even brighter. Surrounded by many of the NBA’s best, picking their brains and observing how they go about their routines only served to boost DeRozan's motivation. When the 2016-17 season kicked off, he was ready.

The offseason morning workouts and afternoon practices with the national team have started to shine through each carefully guarded fadeaway. Purposeful dietary choices and recovery techniques began to show on every drive to the basket, each set of free throws earned. DeRozan came into the league with talent and potential. He has spent the past eight seasons ensuring that he exhausts and maximizes every bit of it.

He would do this in any uniform, at any level, in every situation, because that’s the type of player and competitor he is. From opening tip to final buzzer, DeRozan leaves everything he has on the floor, as he has every night since his NBA journey began when Toronto called his name. Day in and day out, he gives his all to the Raptors. The only difference now, aside from the wins, is the record book bearing his name.


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