Toronto Raptors star DeMar DeRozan was part of the inaugural NBA London Games in London when his side faced the New Jersey [now Brooklyn] Nets in a pair of games in 2011.
The Nets won both games, including one that went to triple overtime, as Andrea Bargnani’s final effort couldn’t lift the Raptors to victory.
DeRozan spoke about the 2011 Games including the upcoming clash at the O2 Arena against the Orlando Magic next Thursday to the international media.
Q: Are you feeling confident ahead of the game with the Magic next week? What are your thoughts ahead of the game?
A: It should be an exciting game. They beat us earlier this season, they broke our streak when we were 5-0, so just go out there and get a chance to redeem myself from the first time we played them and understand that they’re an exciting young team that we’ll have to come prepared for.
Q: You played in the NBA London game before. What did you make of the crowd back in 2011? Was it what you expected?
A: My first time going to London and going over there to play an NBA game was definitely awesome. They didn’t have one team they were cheering for, they were cheering for both teams. This is something I will definitely remember, and this is what made the game even more fun and competitive. I had a great time and I’m glad I’ll be going to represent the Toronto Raptors again.
Q: If you get any time off to spend in London with your family, is there anything in particular that you’re looking forward to do with them?
A: Anything. Give them a chance to at least explore. Just being in London is going to be fun.
Q: The Orlando Magic have had a great season so far. Are they the biggest surprise in the East so far?
A: I wouldn’t think so, because they’ve had a lot of talent in the last couple of years and all they needed was the experience, getting comfortable playing with each other and coming together as a team. I think this time around they just have the confidence and the understanding that they are a good team, so for me it’s really not a surprise.
Q: How do you assess your own form and the form of the Raptors so far this season?
A: Progressing. We continue to get better every single time we step out there on the court. We’re always figuring out ways how I can be better and we can be better as a team. I think every day is a progression because towards the end of the season as long as we come together, all that matters is going to the playoffs and that’s what is going to count.
Q: How important is the trip to London in terms of team bonding?
A: It’s definitely great just to get a change of scenery. Instead of going to our common NBA cities and playing, we’re going to another country, and we will take our families over there and they will experience something new that a lot of us haven’t seen. It’s definitely going to be amazing to go out there to have a couple of days there before we play and go out there to play. Just to get a new experience and share something together is definitely going to be awesome.
Q: What do you make of the O2 Arena compared to the ones you play in the States?
A: Usually when you play in the States, the crowd is typically cheering for one team. When I played at the O2 Arena fans were so intriguing. Having a game over there, they were cheering for both sides. If a team scores the fans were definitely into the game and that type of energy led to an exciting game and it was extremely fun.
Q: Given what you guys did last season, how did you reset the expectations to the team? On a personal level, once you become an All-Star, did you kind of reset the expectations on yourself?
A: Most definitely. You definitely have to step your game up even more from a leadership standpoint, pushing the guys to understanding to continue to have success individual-wise and team-wise you gain that extra motivation mentally to keep pushing.
Q: Is there any particular aspect of your game that you’re particularly pleased with and you think you’ve improved from last season?
A: Just tidying up a few things that I probably wasn’t so comfortable with last year, just get a lot stronger conditioning-wise, and continue to try to make that push to be a better overall player.
Q: Someone mentioned the Magic are an improved side, there must a lot of improved teams in the Eastern Conference and a lot of teams have very good records. Does that surprise you this year? Did you see this coming?
A: I’d definitely seen it coming because over the years there have been a lot of very talented teams in the East that just didn’t have the experience that they needed. Over time, once you get used to have that playing experience, you bring all that together and all that make you a better team, and you see it all coming together in the East now.
Q: How important and how realistically do you see your team in the Playoffs?
A: I think it is wide open for anybody. It is all about who hits their stride when it counts, that’s the most important time. It can be anybody in the East honestly.
Q: Yourself and Kyle Lowry are now considered one of the best back backcourts in the NBA. How has that relationship evolved on and off the court?
A: It has evolved a lot honestly. I cannot even pinpoint a moment where it evolved. We just looked up and we closed on and off the court. My family and his family get along really well too.
Q: How excited are you about the All-Star game in Toronto and how important is that going to be for the city?
A: I’m extremely excited. Just to have the world get a chance to really understand what type of city Toronto really is. I think Toronto deserves the credit that they’ve never got over the years.
Q: You’re currently 7th in voting for the All-Star game. You’ve played some excellent basketball lately. You were player of the week last month. Is there any player currently ahead of you in the voting that you feel you deserve to have more votes down such as Kyrie Irving, who’s second for guards in the East?
A: When it comes to voting you have to understand that it’s the fans. They want to see stars, you can’t really get caught up in the voting sometimes. If you’re worthy of making it to the All-Star, you’ve just got to be worthy of making it. But when it comes to voting, it’s just who the fans want to see sometimes, so you can’t really get caught up in the voting.
Q: What do you think about Kobe Bryant being an All-Star for the final time in his career?
A: I think it’s great to have one of the all-time greats in his last All-Star game. It’s a farewell, going away type of game for him. All the players are giving their appreciation to him, playing his last All-Star game.
Q: After the Playoffs last year, you had a number of defensive orientated people come in such as DeMarre Carroll, Corey Joseph and Bismack Biyombo. Which of those three guys has impressed you the most so far?
A: All three of them but I have to say it’s either between Bismack [Biyombo]and Corey [Joseph] because they didn’t get a chance to really play like they wanted on their previous teams and to see them blossom and do the things that they are capable of doing for us it’s definitely awesome to see, so I’d say it’s between Bismack [Biyombo] and Corey [Joseph].
Q: Bruno Caboclo hasn’t had a lot of time to play the last couple of years. Can you just give the fans an idea of how he’s doing in practice, what he’s learning from the bench, how far he’s come since the team has drafted him?
A: Bruno has definitely come a long way. He just needs the experience of playing, developing, understanding the game and getting stronger, but he’s coming along every single day and he’s getting a lot more comfortable, understanding the game and doing the things he’s capable of doing. I think it is going to take time but he is putting in the work.
Q: You’re quite a big sneaker fan. What is your favourite pair of sneakers you’ve played in in your career? What three players in the NBA have the best sneaker collection?
A: If I had to take one pair of shoes, I’d say any selection of the Kobe: that’s always been my favourite basketball shoe to play in and the most comfortable basketball shoe to play in. Three players I think have a great collection: PJ Tucker, Nick Young and Monta Ellis.