The FIBA Basketball World Cup starts on August 30 with 24 teams set to compete for the championship. Team USA made its final cuts to the roster over the weekend to bring its team down to 12 players. Some names returning from the 2010 World Cup squad include Stephen Curry, Rudy Gay, and a healthy Derrick Rose. But with many marquee players stepping away from Team USA commitments due to injury (Blake Griffin, Paul George) or citing physical and mental exhaustion (Kevin Durant), there were some surprises on the final roster.
One of those surprises was DeMar DeRozan.
In the lead up to the final roster announcement, DeRozan had played in just one of Team USA's three exhibition games. His lone appearance, against an over-matched Dominican Republic squad, saw him assert his will on the court in a myriad of ways. There was DeRozan's efficient shooting, the healthy rebound and assist numbers, and a lack of turnovers, which all worked to reflect his versatile two-way ability. DeRozan finished with a game-high 13 points, along with six assists and five rebounds. Despite being singled out by Coach Krzyzewski for his solid play, DeRozan's presence on the team was not guaranteed.
When DeRozan came into the NBA many looked at him as a one-dimensional player, another high volume shooter who needed the ball in his hands all the time and didn't do much else to help his team win. A cursory look through DeRozan's stats in those early years bears this thesis out, but the long view reveals something different. The arc of DeRozan's career in both his stats and profile, along with that of his Raptors team, has risen.
DeRozan joins a short list of Raptors who have represented Team USA in international competition. Chris Bosh was on both the USA's FIBA World Cup squad in 2006 and the Redeem Team in the 2008 Olympics. This was the group that sought to restore the reputation of Team USA basketball after a disastrous showing in the 2004 Olympics and a third place finish in 2006.
And then there was Vince Carter, who created some indelible basketball moments while repping the USA at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia. Frederic Weis was never the same again.
DeRozan's international basketball career has followed a different path. With an increased value placed on chemistry and continuity among both the coaching staff and the players, and the fact that some of the game's biggest stars took a pass on the World Cup event, merely selecting the 12 best American players in the world was not an option this time around. Today's Team USA is a tightly controlled organization overseen by Coach K and long time director Jerry Colangelo. Faced with the absence of elite players, while dealing with the devastating injury to George and a looming match-up with Spain on their home floor, Coach K admitted to ESPN's Marc Stein that they had to "develop a new chemistry."
It speaks volumes that Team USA management looked at DeRozan and saw what Raptors fans have watched develop for the past five years: a very talented player. As Stein reports, Colangelo said of DeRozan:
"He's an athlete, he's versatile and he's shown really well. He just beat out a few people. He can not only play two positions but, against certain international teams, he can play even against bigger guys."
I was one of DeRozan's initial doubters. When general manager Bryan Colangelo -- Jerry's son -- signed DeRozan to a four year, $38 million dollar extension, I thought the team was bidding against itself for a player that had already maxed out his abilities. DeRozan had shone at times, but he remained maddeningly inconsistent.
But DeRozan's play and numbers have continued to improve. He was selected to the NBA All-Star game this past season. And as much as the Raptors' ascension is due to Kyle Lowry's leadership, DeRozan's ability to get to the free throw line on a consistent basis along with his mid-range scoring touch contributed a lot to the revival of the franchise last season.
The elder Colangelo's kind words are the latest point on an arc that continues to climb. His comment that DeRozan just beat out a few people emphasizes how tough a decision it was for Team USA management to make.
I prefer to think of the just beat out a few people quote as a credit to DeRozan's continuing development. As he has done throughout his career, he simply worked harder than everyone else to claim his spot on the team.