photo by: Nida Alibhai

After Monday’s practice, DeMar DeRozan was the man of the hour. Everyone wanted to talk to him about his recent offensive success. While we’ve all watched as he has improved on the court, it’s important to recognize that DeRozan’s growth extends beyond the basketball floor.

While the offensive repertoire has expanded for all of us to see, ask DeRozan which improvement to his game he is most proud of and he’ll tell you it’s the extra size he added over his first off-season as a pro. Looking at DeRozan, he is no longer the frail upper-bodied rookie the Raptors drafted. Thanks to lots of extra time in the weight room, the 21-year-old has filled out his frame and is reaping the rewards of his hard work when he drives to the hoop.

“I think around this time last year, I was so banged up,” DeRozan reflected. “I think I hit the rookie wall or something like that. I remember just being tired, being banged up and I wasn’t playing as many minutes as I am now. Just being able to get stronger in the offseason, being able to take the physicality of going inside with the big guys.”

While DeRozan has shown he can put points on the board –he’s averaging 24 points per contest over his last six games– he is also showing a quiet confidence. A confidence that can perhaps be attributed to playing alongside point guard Jose Calderon.

Since Calderon moved into the permanent starting point guard role after Jarrett Jack was sent to New Orleans, DeRozan has slowly been finding his way. As he’s been discovering where he likes to operate on the floor, Calderon has been there ensuring he gets the opportunity.

“I love playing with Jose,” DeRozan said. “It’s showing every night. He gets everybody going. He knows where everybody likes the ball. He talks to me, Drea, whoever it may be before every possession, asks us where we like the ball. It definitely helps. Makes us comfortable.”

Coach Jay Triano credits DeRozan’s drive and desire to be better for the sophomore surge. “He’s put in the hours, with the work ethic, he comes back into the gym at night,” Triano said. “He’s starting to attack, be more aggressive and because of that he’s starting to put up numbers that are what we read right now. The option is to continue to improve and he’s got the right attitude, so I don’t see why he wouldn’t.”

DeRozan insists he is simply playing his game, the same game he has always played. His family and friends agree with him.

“They say that’s the way they remember seeing me play ever since high school and college and everything,” DeRozan smiled, thinking of his loved ones. “They just tell me, ‘it’s about time.’”

While it seems like it’s been a long time coming to impatient fans, in reality, DeRozan is less than three years removed from playing basketball for Compton High.

In the world of professional sports, though, none of this matters. Age ain’t nothing but a number and it certainly isn’t an excuse fans want to hear.

DeRozan’s reality is that he is young and learning on the fly. He sometimes makes the wrong pass or passes up the right shot.

Despite these things, the DeRozan standing in front of the crowd of media members on Monday afternoon was a young man whose learning has not been limited to the basketball court. That confidence. His in-depth, drawn-out responses. The opinions in addition to simple facts. The bits and pieces of his personality infiltrating his answers. DeRozan is beginning to learn how to take control of a media scrum and make it work for him.

DeRozan has always believed in himself. He wouldn’t have been the 9th pick in the 2009 NBA draft if he didn’t. The difference is that now, we’re seeing it. He knows he’s supposed to be here, it’s just that he’s determined to not take any of it for granted.

“Maturity, confidence, coaches trusting me,” DeRozan said, narrowing down his reasons for success this season. “I really am grateful for every moment that I get and I’m just trying to take advantage of it and do the best I can to help us win.”

Hard work, dedication, and humility. DeRozan knows what has brought him this far, and most importantly, he knows that those same traits will take him where he wants to go.