photo via @jose3030

While we posted a Q/A with DeMar DeRozan over at TBJ earlier this week, it’s time to start rolling out a series of posts from a lengthy phone conversation we recently had. If you’ve watched Raptors scrums during the season or even read quotes from DeRozan, you know he’s generally a man of few words. He’s pretty cool and quiet.

Maybe it’s the summer and not having to talk to media every day at practice, or maybe I just caught him on a day when he felt like chatting, but DeRozan and I talked for nearly an hour about everything under the sun that is related to basketball (and music. and The Wire). It was really fun to see some of his thoughts on the past season, his game, the future, and this current lockout situation.

One quote I can’t help but direct your attention to is his response to playing against Kobe and the Lakers. DeRozan’s love for this game is great. He’s obsessed with becoming the best he can be because the game means so much to him. Toronto is lucky to have a young guy who respects the history of the game so much. It’s pretty awesome.

Here’s part one, where we look back on the season that was.

HM: Now that you’ve had some time to reflect back on the year, what are you most proud of with respect to your own game?

DD: How much I was able to improve in such a short period of time. I was in high school, then to college, to the NBA. You have to adjust and learn so fast. That’s one thing about my game that I really take seriously. Just how much I want to get better at the end of each day.

HM: Do you think people sometimes underestimate how fast it happens, that transition to becoming a pro? Is it tougher than people think?

DD: Yeah, it’s definitely tougher than people think (laughs). People don’t realize how hard it is going out there with older guys that probably have families, have kids and you’re the young’n out there and you haven’t been through half the stuff they’ve been through in the league. Then there’s the business standpoint, there’s just so much and we’re behind and we’re trying to keep up and learn every single day. That’s the tough part, just keeping up because it’s definitely not easy.

HM: Do you feel like you got more respect from your opponents this past season than in your rookie year?

DD: I think more than anything, I took more respect. I just want to go out there and prove everybody wrong. Show I can play, that I’m a team player. I just want to go out there and win and show my love for the game of basketball.

HM: Okay, a couple of moments from the season I wanted to ask you about. First, The Lakers. Third quarter. You’re scoring at will. You’re playing against Kobe, the guy you grew up watching in LA. You’re scoring on the Lakers using moves you learned from watching tape of Kobe. After the game, he mentions you, said you were a hell of a player. What does that –all of that– feel like?

DD: It’s big because I definitely studied him since I was young. For moves, to… everything. He’s always been one of my favorite players. He’s one of the best competitors in the NBA and that’s the type of person you watch and, you definitely want to become, not only as good as him, but maybe, one day even better than him. That’s the challenge I take on against any player in the NBA. I just want to be able to show them that I can play. It’s bigger than the game for me. I think when I go out there and play basketball, it just means so much to me. I put my all into it and I love it.

HM: Okay. Second moment. New Year’s Eve in Houston. Were you just in a zone during that game?

DD: I don’t know what really happened. I did the same things, had the same routine, but something just happened where I knew I could get to the basket and score whenever I wanted. Every day after that I had it in my mind, that I could play with the best and I could score when I needed to.

HM: Was that a turning point for you?

DD: Oh yeah. Everybody gets their opportunity and when your opportunity comes you’ve got to be ready for it and take advantage of it and that’s all I did.

HM: When you found out you were going to have a new coach, that Jay [Triano] had been let go, were you surprised?

DD: Ah, yeah. I was surprised. You know, Jay is definitely a good dude, a good caoch. Sometimes, that’s the front office to make that decision, but luckily he’s still a part of the front office and he’s still a part of the team.

HM: How did you find out about Jay? Did someone call you, were you on the internet?

DD: I probably found out on Twitter or something.

HM: Do you know Dwane Casey at all?

DD: Before the lockout, when they hired him, I was able to spend a little time with him, but I’ve known him for the past couple of summers. Working out in Vegas at Grgurich camp, I’ve got to meet him a few times and talk to him. I know him and I’ve had a little time with him.

HM: When you saw him before the lockout, did he tell you anything in particular to focus on for this upcoming season?

DD: Just work on my game. Get that 3-point down. Overall just work on my game and come ready for next season whenever that is. Just be ready. My role is going to be bigger and bigger every year. I just want to step up and be a leader to my team.

HM: Were you surprised with how things shook out on draft night?

DD: You know, I just put my trust in the front office. I think they know what fits us best, what’s best with us. Just ride with it when it comes season time, come together and try to win games.

HM: What do you think when people talk about there being more chemistry on the team this past season? Is that true or false?

DD: I think we were so young this year everybody looked at it like we were so close, but my first year everybody was close [too]. I think they looked at it like an age thing. We’re all so close in age that we have more chemistry. We were just out there playing basketball. That’s all it was.

HM: I know it was a tough season wins wise. You say you were just “out there playing basketball”. Was that part of it fun? Developing your game and getting comfortable with your teammates?

DD: It was definitely fun. A lot of us just did everything together. Just going out and playing basketball. Just going out and playing basketball together. Your close friends. Even though we were losing it kind of eased it a bit knowing you were going out there with people you genuinely cared about outside of basketball. Going through the tough times together.

Check back Monday for more with DeRozan, including his thoughts on the lockout, summer training and one of his best friends going to Lithuania for the season.