By Frank McLean
Toronto Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan is currently in what athletes call “the zone”, he is playing the best basketball of his career and he’s doing it with a heavy heart.
He averaged 25.2 points a game in the month of December which was a main factor for the team going 11-3. And in one of those games he had a then career high 45 pointer in a comeback win in Philadelphia.
He was named the NBA Player of the Week for the first week of the calendar year in 2018 where he averaged 35.7 points a game in three games and erased his career and Raptors franchise mark for points in a game on New Year’s night against Milwaukee by scoring 52.
But it hasn’t been easy for the Raptors All-Star.
DeRozan has left the team twice in the last few weeks to head home to Los Angeles to be with his father who is not doing well with kidney disease.
Heck it doesn’t surprise me that he is going this well with all that is going on his life right now. DeRozan is one of the most focused athletes I have covered in in Toronto in the 30-plus years I have been around Toronto sports. He ranks right up there with Robbie Alomar, the late Roy Halladay and Doug Gilmour for their coolness under pressure no matter what is going on.
Over the past weekend in New York, Toronto Sun’s Mike Ganter DeRozan as saying,
“I grew up in Compton, California, man, every day was a challenge for me. That’s all I’ve known my whole life. It’s not a surprise for me. It’s not something that’s going to hold me down. I fight through adversity anywhere it comes in my life. It’s nothing new to me.”
“I’m pretty sure everyone in here goes through life situations,” DeRozan added. “You live on this earth, you’re going to have some type of issue that occurs that’s close to you. It’s just a matter of how you handle it, how you go about it. I go about mine like a man, like a professional. I don’t complain. I don’t cry about it. I don’t make excuses. These are things you just got to handle.
“I just go out and play, I don’t think about the run (the last few weeks), I don’t think about nothing. I just love playing basketball. When you get in that zone and you are just going out there playing ball you are able to zone out and be in a different space than you are throughout the rest of the day doing anything else. Basketball is always that realm for me where I can just get in that mindset of feeling free.”
When you are a kid it’s usually your dad that inserts a love of a sport or sports in general and in the case of basketball it was his dad that helped him get the basketball bug.
“He is everything,” DeRozan said. “My dad put the basketball in my hands. My dad took me to the park. My dad pushed me. My dad was my dad. My dad was the reason I wanted to play sports, just like every other kid that looked up to their dad. That’s what he is to me to this day, and what he is to me forever.”
When you talk to Raptors head coach Dwane Casey and you bring up DeRozan he will tell you that nothing he does will amaze you. One of the reasons players love Casey is that in this crazy world that is the NBA family comes first and he tells each and every player that.
“This is his refuge here and he should use this as a refuge to get away from his issues and problems for those two hours,” Casey said. “But if he has to get away and go home for his family he knows he has the organization’s support to do that.”
DeRozan started week two off right in 2018 as he scored 35 points in Monday’s 114-113 overtime thriller in Brooklyn.
DeRozan is a special talent, no argument there. He is right when he says that we all have to go through something like this with a close family member at one time or another. It’s just life. We go to work every day because we have to. It’s just that when we do, we don’t do it in front of 20-thousand people in an arena and millions more watching you on television.
That’s what makes it more amazing to watch this run DeRozan is currently on.
Veteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.