How DeRozan, Calderón developed strong bond in Toronto originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
TORONTO - DeMar DeRozan is back in the city he called home, back where he arrived as a 20-year-old rookie for the Toronto Raptors with a strong work ethic, willingness to listen and insatiable desire to get better.
But the reunion vibe kicked off earlier this week when DeRozan ran into José Calderón, his former backcourt starting mate, in New York.
"He's probably one of my all-time favorite teammates who embraced me as a young guy. He was the most positive player I ever played with," DeRozan said. "Never seen him upset. Never seen him mad. He always enjoyed what he was doing whether he was on the court or off the court."
Calderón, a special advisor in the Cleveland Cavaliers' front office, attended the Chicago Bulls' game versus the Brooklyn Nets on Nov. 1. Beforehand, he also caught up with Bulls general manager Marc Eversley, who worked as the Raptors assistant general manager when the franchise drafted DeRozan and employed Calderón.
What Calderón heard about DeRozan didn't surprise him.
"Marc was telling me he is still getting back to the gym three or four times a week to get shots," Calderón said. "It wasn't just his work ethic in Toronto. He was always willing to listen. We made a good friendship there. He was always asking questions. You could see that pay off in the sense that every day he was getting better. And it sounds like he's still trying to evolve and improve.
"In basketball, you can get better when you put the work in. He got better. Now it's like layups for him, that midrange. Another good thing about that is instead of getting discouraged by everyone shooting 3s, he's comfortable with his game."
In that way, it sounds like DeRozan is imitating Calderón, who he played with for three-and-a-half seasons before the Raptors dealt the Spaniard to the Detroit Pistons in a three-team deal that netted them Rudy Gay. Not that Calderón also eschewed the 3-point shot for midrange jumpers, but more so in terms of being comfortable in his own skin and playing his game.
"I used to always admire the way José played because he wasn't the fastest. He didn't jump the highest. But he knew how to play the right way," DeRozan said. "He's probably one of the highest IQ players that I played with. Especially coming into the league, his poise, how efficient he was in the screen-and-roll taught me a lot. The way he dictated action and manipulated the game with such ease, it was great.
"He also gave me the ultimate confidence to be the scorer. The way he passed the ball, he'd always throw lobs to me. He made the game extremely easy for me."
Calderón also isn't surprised that DeRozan has kept scoring, recently becoming the 50th NBA player to surpass 20,000 career points. Calderón called that an "amazing accomplishment" that stems from the work ethic DeRozan has used to evolve his game from high-flying dunker to midrange sniper.
"He worked hard every day, every practice. He'd come back to the gym to get better. He wanted to win. You can't ask for more," Calderón said. "He may not always be thought of as one of the big names because of the way he is on the court. He's always under control. He's always low-key. But he's the kind of guy you want on your team for sure."
And sometimes, it was fun for the former Raptors teammates to be opponents.
DeRozan played for USA Basketball as it won gold medals at both the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain and 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. Calderón, who enjoyed a distinguished national team run on four Olympic teams, played for Spain in both tournaments.
In the former, Spain lost in an upset to France before facing the U.S. At the 2016 Olympics, the U.S. defeated Spain in a hard-fought semifinal, although neither DeRozan nor Calderón saw playing time in that game.
"It was an always an honor to face (the Spanish national team)," DeRozan said. "Competing for bragging rights was always fun, especially at that level."
Calderón played 14 seasons in the NBA. DeRozan is in Year 14 and, coming off a 46-point performance in Boston, is showing no signs of slowing down.
"He's just a great teammate," Calderón said.
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