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Q&A: DeMar DeRozan, the steady riser

John E. Sokolowski/USA TODAY Sports

DeMar DeRozan knew he had to be patient when he returned to the lineup after getting injured in late November and missing 21 straight games because of a torn groin tendon. It was going to take time to regain his All-Star form.

The 25-year-old swingman struggled early, but his patience is paying off. Since March 2, DeRozan is averaging nearly 24 points per game while shooting 45 percent from the field.

If the Toronto Raptors are going to turn heads in the playoffs, they're going to need DeRozan to be at his best. They have a chance to complete a franchise-high 49-win campaign Wednesday night in their regular-season finale against the Milwaukee Bucks.

A couple of weeks ago, DeRozan sat down with ESPN.com in New York to discuss a variety of topics.


ESPN: Your first name, DeMar -- where does it come from?

DeRozan: I was named after my mom's brother -- my uncle -- he actually got killed. My mom [Diane] didn't have me until she was about 35. She couldn't have kids. She said she always tried and the doctor told her she couldn't have kids. It was just like a miracle, but every Mother's Day my uncle used to give my mom a Mother's Day card because he believed she was gonna have a kid. She said she named me after him because he was the only person that got her a Mother's Day card every Mother's Day even when she was told she couldn't have a kid, and I was my mom's only child.

ESPN: You have a tattoo with your grandmother's name, Barbara. How important was she in your life?

DeRozan: I was really close with her. Her favorite player when I was growing up was Allen Iverson. She always used to talk about him. And I always used to tell her, "Grandma, I'm going to be in the NBA and play against him." The one thing that always stuck out to me was how big a fan she was of me and basketball. She was just the most positive person ever.

She lived close by. I basically was raised in her house. That's where I was every single day. I used to cry when I had to leave her house, that's how close we were.

She passed away when I was a sophomore in high school. But I always used to tell her, "I'm going to play in the NBA, Grandma." And she always believed me and made me feel confident, like I was going to make it. I always pay tribute to that.

ESPN: What was it like growing up in Compton [California]?

DeRozan: It was really tough because you had to battle for every single thing -- everything from basketball to walking home, there was some type of aggression that you had to stand up to. It was tough, but I think that molded me into the person that I am now. A lot of people, if you don't know me, it seems like I'm quiet, I stay to myself and everything, but that's just how I was growing up.

ESPN: Tell us about your parents.

DeRozan: A lot of times it used to feel odd to me growing up because I always had my mom and dad [Frank], and I used to wonder why a lot of my friends either were going home to just their mom or just their dad or their grandparents. It was just always awkward to me. To have a stable foundation to always go home to and show me right from wrong on a daily basis, I never took it for granted because I saw friends that didn't have both parents and they definitely played a major part in me growing up and keeping me on the right track.

Me and my mom are just alike in every type of way. I talk to my mom about everything. My dad is more, "Good job." He'll never give me too much credit for anything. I think just with that it was always cool because my dad always used to take me to the park to play basketball and my mom always let me be me, speak freely and just express myself with her. My dad was more of the disciplinarian. It worked for me because it gave me both angles to really mold me into who I am.

My dad always played sports. He played football. I always wanted to play football because my dad played football but my mom never wanted me to play football because she said she couldn't take me getting hit. My dad just pushed me with basketball and I remember I used to go watch him play basketball and try to mimic everything he did. I just grew a passion from it.

ESPN: When was your first dunk?

DeRozan: The sixth grade. It was a 10-foot hoop. I don't remember how tall I was. It was kinda by accident. When you're young, you try to do something you've seen on TV. I was messing around in recess, acting like I could dunk and I went up and dunked it. Everybody went crazy, and I was just popular from that day on.

ESPN: Why was Kobe Bryant your favorite player growing up?

DeRozan: I just think he made the ultimate sacrifice to be able to be a great basketball player. We only get a short window of time to play this game of basketball. He is a prime example of a player that took advantage of wanting to be great in the years he was going to be in the league, and every single year, he showed it.

I grew up in L.A. watching him work. I remember in his rookie year, he played in the playoffs and shot all those air balls. People looked down on him, but he was able to evolve into one of the greatest players of all time. I have the ultimate respect for Kobe.

ESPN: Why did you decide to attend Compton High School?

DeRozan: A lot of people thought I would go to some big high school or a winning program -- what a lot of these kids do these days is look for a prep school. I was the opposite way, and that's how I've always been. I told myself that if I went to Compton High and I made something out of the school, it would mean something to me later down the line because I started everything. And future kids would say, "DeMar made it here, why can't I?" I wanted to stay home.

ESPN: When did you know the NBA was a real possibility?

DeRozan: I always knew it was a real possibility, I just didn't know when or how it was gonna happen. But when I played in the Pac-10 tournament and got MVP, everything started fast-forwarding from there. It felt like 100 mph, and I just knew, "Damn, this could really happen." I just let things go and said, "Whatever I got, I'm going to dedicate it to the game of basketball."

ESPN: You left USC after your freshman season and got drafted in the first round by the Raptors. One of the reasons was because your mom got lupus and you wanted to improve her quality of care. How difficult was it to cope during that ordeal?

DeRozan: My whole thing was I get to do something that I'm passionate about and love, and I get to be able to take care of my mom, so why not? I never really cared about the money and everything, personally. I just always cared what it could do for my loved ones. My happiness comes from playing basketball, so just to be able to do that for my mom, that's what it's all about. It just made me happier the more I knew she was comfortable.

My mom's one of the toughest ladies I know. I've seen her lose both her brothers, both her parents. She's been through a lot, and to see her get up every day and put a smile on her face, that shows nothing but strength.

ESPN: How is she doing now?

DeRozan: She's doing good. Lupus is so up and down, but she's doing good. She's always in good spirits.

ESPN: You guys got off to a 24-7 start this season and then you suffered the groin tear. You'd missed only 11 games in your first five seasons. How did you handle it?

DeRozan: It was the hardest thing I had to do since I've been in the league because it was just tough, not being out there especially with the start we had. I just felt like me personally, I was just letting down my team and we had worked so hard. I had worked so hard. It was a lot of tough days, trying to stay happy and stay positive, but I knew each day I couldn't do anything but get better and heal.

Having my daughter [Diar] helped, too, so that's what kept me happy, a lot of cartoons and kid stuff that really kept me on a positive note. If I didn't have my daughter, it would've really been tough.

ESPN: How have you developed into such a strong midrange shooter?

DeRozan: I watch so much basketball. I pay attention to the most miscellaneous things. Of reactions, of everything. It's like a game. If you watch so much basketball you know that a lot of players' natural instinct is to reach in. So when you reach in, you just time it. It's all about timing. It's just a lot of people don't look at it from that type of aspect, and I'm probably giving away too much. But that's just how I look at it.

To me, I grew up watching all the big-time 2-guards back in the '90s, and to this day I still watch a lot of old basketball, and midrange was the style of basketball they played, so I always paid attention to that, watched that, but now I'm just in love with getting fouled and getting to the free throw line.

ESPN: What's the biggest misconception about your game?

DeRozan: That I don't shoot 3s. That I can't shoot 3s. People always say I can't shoot 3s or I don't defend. I don't shoot 3s because I choose not to shoot 3s. If I shoot them, I know I can make them. I feel like every time I get the ball I can get to the rim or I can get fouled. That's just what my mindset is. I got the ball and I feel like nobody can guard me or sometimes it's not even for me to score, it's to get my teammates involved.

I always take pride in my defense, especially in the fourth quarter, to try and guard the best player on the opposing team every night.

ESPN: What's the next step for you in your evolution?

DeRozan: Just putting everything together. I show spurts of being a good passer, scorer and rebounder, it's just about putting everything together.

ESPN: Do you aspire to be a max player?

DeRozan: I think the most important thing to me is putting everything together, and that will come. And that's one thing I've always believed in. I've seen so many people think they have to get the money to be the player. I feel like if you're the player you'll get everything: the money, the All-Star appearances, the playoff appearances, the conference finals, the NBA Finals. That's where it starts, and everything else will come with it.

ESPN: Obviously you want to win a championship, but how do you want to be remembered?

DeRozan: As one of the best to do it and be able to prove it every single year. I want to be that one player where people are like, "Damn, he got better every single year."

ESPN: Complete this sentence, "The Raptors will make a deep playoff run if . . . "

DeRozan: If we stay disciplined. All we have to do is stay disciplined on every single night, at every single shootaround. As soon as the playoffs start, as long as we stay disciplined, we can go as far as we want to go.