Rising Above the Criticism

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Rising Above the Criticism

With Each Day, DeMar DeRozan’s Raptor Legend Continues to Grow

“Don’t worry, I got us…”

The Toronto Raptors finished the 2009-10 season with a 40-42 mark. Chris Bosh was a pending free agent, and the Raptors brief playoff stint was all but in the past. The winning culture constructed under the Bryan Colangelo regime vanished as quickly as it was built. A franchise’s fanbase starving for a change and a vision of a brighter future was left with the knowledge that things will return to how they once were for decades.

Because it’s Toronto.

The Leafs haven’t won a lick since the days of our four fathers, while the Blue Jays haven’t returned to the playoffs since winning back-to-back World Series in ’92 and ’93. The Raptors? Well, they are the NBA’s forgotten team, inhabiting a city outside of the United States.

Everyone was ready to throw in the towel except one individual. DeMar DeRozan, an unproven shooting guard out of USC was set to enter his second year in the league. A 21-year old grabbed by the Raptors with ninth pick in the 2009 NBA Draft for his above average mid-range game, freakish athleticism, and a high work ethic.

Was he assumed to be a future superstar like the first overall pick in the draft, Blake Griffin? A star in the making like the NBA’s next great big man, second overall pick Hasheem Thabeet? Or a player capable of reaching the heights that many believed third overall pick James Harden was in line to reach?

The Raptors were taking a stab in the dark on an athlete with work ethic in a league heading into the direction of more floor spacing, more three-pointers, more efficiency, and most importantly, less of an isolation and mid-range dominant styles of basketball.

“He is a very talented player and he has a chance to be special,” then Raptors president and general manager Colangelo said. “Now it is about us putting him in an environment where he can succeed.

“The athleticism that he displays is spectacular at times and I think, if he applies himself the right way — works on his game, the coaches hone his skills — there is a chance to get something special.”

Colangelo’s draft night assumption would come true. As the league continued transitioning away from DeRozan’s strengths, the shooting guard continued honing his craft and despite harsh words from critics, has turned himself into one of the best shooting guards in the entire game. A perennial 2o-plus point scorer, a sure-fire All-Star, and maybe, when all is said and done, DeRozan will go down as the greatest Raptor in franchise history.

Since the promise he left to the fanbase and the organization nearly eight years ago, the Raptors have enjoyed their most prominent stretch in team history. Consistently amongst not only the best teams in the Eastern Conference, but the entire NBA. Many things may have changed over the last decade in Raptors basketball, but one thing has remained unaltered – DeRozan remaining the face of the organization.

Along the way, the Raptors reached the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in team history, pushing the mighty Cleveland Cavaliers to six games, and on a personal front, the soon-to-be four-time All-Star has set his own mark on the floor, asserting his name in Raptors record books.

“You go through making the all-star team once, and then the challenge is can you do it again?” Said Coach Dwane Casey on his star guard. “Can it not just be a mishap? You get put in a class of being able to be on an Olympic team and being around superstar type of guys and that kind of solidifies and gives you that confidence of ‘I’m supposed to be here, what’s next?’ Of going to the Eastern Conference finals. Of being a few games away from the finals.

“All those things come into play for me that kind of helps me, moulds me in the good and the bad, determines me to the type of player I am. Things like that really shift a player.”

In his nine seasons with the Raptors, DeRozan has played the most games in team history (607), logging in over 3,000 more minutes than his trailer. He is also the leader in points scored (12,326), field goals made (4,186), and free throws made (3,170). On Monday night, DeRozan set a new mark in a Raptors victory over the Milwaukee Bucks. In the dying seconds of overtime, the Compton, California-native sunk two clutch free throws, spelling a 52-point night – the most points ever scored in a single game by a Raptor – topping a record previously shared by Vince Carter and Terrence Ross.

For a guy like DeMar, all these countless accomplishments are challenges that he has continually put hard work into over come.

“It’s everything. I love the moments, I love the way we started out the season with the tough schedule because it forces you to play at a high level,” DeRozan said. “There’s no easing into nothing, there’s no trying to figure something out, straight out of the gate you’ve got to be on all 10 toes ready.”

For DeRozan, a kid growing up in the troubled neighbourhoods in Compton, he fulfilled the promise he made the Raptor organization and moreover, the city of Toronto. On the day he chose to re-sign with the Raptors, showing his true colours and the loyalty in which he has believed in since being drafted by the the same very team, DeRozan referred to himself as “Mr. I am Toronto” and if there is any doubt behind how important DeRozan is to the city’s culture, it was validated with the “MVP” chants ringing through the Air Canada Centre on Monday night.

Not a bad rise to the top for just another kid from Compton.

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