This weekend in Orlando, the NBA’s stars (and scrubs) will collect to celebrate the game with exhibitions of talent, showmanship and partying. The break will serve as the longest space between games the players will get during this hectic season that was shortened by an overflow of the summer’s labor negotiations. For the Toronto Raptors, who sit near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, it’ll be an especially welcome reprieve from the season’s grind, an opportunity for the players to clear their heads and prepare for the final stretch. The team has shown great promise but the Raptors’ growing pains (Toronto is one of the youngest clubs in the league) have also swelled due to an injury to their top scorer, Andrea Bargnani. In the absence of the splendidly versatile Italian forward, third year guard DeMar DeRozan has begun displaying the drive and leadership needed to translate his unearthly athleticism into consistent results. All signs point to positive in this learning season under coach Dwayne Casey but to alleviate some of the stress that comes with being injured or playing from behind, we caught up with the Raptors’ rising stars after practice and asked about everything but basketball. Well, we did ask about dunking, because, let’s face it, dunking is an art unto itself.
DeMar DeRozan is a 6 foot 7 inch shooting guard from Compton, California. DeMar attended the University of Southern California for one year before being taken in the first round of the 2009 NBA Draft by Toronto. Considered to be one of the league’s premier leapers, DeRozan competed in the Slam Dunk Competition last year in Los Angeles. The young man’s rapid elevation calls to mind jet packs and Pegasus. Do not get caught between him and the rim.
Andrea Bargnani is a seven foot tall power forward from Rome who began his professional career in Italy at age 16. In 2006 Toronto selected him with the first overall pick in the NBA Draft. The big man has remarkable finesse and coordination for a man of his size and has been nicknamed “Il Mago” (“The Magician”) in his home country. When Andrea is on (now routine), flicking the ball with immaculate spin, scoring seems easy for him as tossing stones in the ocean.
What’s your favourite restaurant in Toronto?
DeRozan: An Italian place called Buca.
Bargnani: There are so many. I love sushi so I like Blowfish, Ki. I also like Buca.
Bargnani: It’s tough because they both dress well but they both have completely different styles. BC dresses very Italian so I like that.
DeRozan: Bryan Colangelo.
Who’s the best dressed player on the team?
DeRozan: Jamaal Magloire.
Bargnani: I am. [laughs]
Andrea, where do you shop for clothes?
Bargnani: I don’t shop. Armani sends me clothes, suits.
And what do you drive?
Bargnani: A Lexus. They’re my sponsor. An Italian family owns Northwest Lexus and they take care of me every year and give me a car.
If there was a movie made about your life, who would play you?
DeRozan: That’s a tough one. I’ll go with Will Smith.
Who’s the funniest guy on the team?
Bargnani: Rasual Butler is pretty funny, so is Jerryd Bayless. The whole team jokes around, they’re all cool guys.
DeMar, you’re close friends with Master P’s son, Percy “Lil’ Romeo” Miller. Did Master P ever give you any advice?
DeRozan: Yeah, a lot. About living, money, everything. Anything you can think of, he gave me advice on.
What’s one thing you can get back home that you can’t get here?
DeRozan: Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles.
Bargnani: Croissants. They’re different than the ones you have here. Good Italian croissants.
What’s the most played on your IPod right now?
Bargnani: Italian songs. Vasco Rossi is an Italian singer – all of his songs.
DeRozan: Rick Ross’ new mixtape Rich Forever.
What team do you use when you play Madden?
DeRozan: The Philadelphia Eagles.
If you could play another sport, what would it be?
Bargnani: I would play tennis. I play a lot in the off-season. It’s my second favourite sport.
DeMar, do you think you got cheated out of winning last year’s Dunk Contest?
DeRozan: I won’t say I got “cheated” but, I mean, do a poll of 10 people and you’ll get your answer out of that.
What dunk would you have done if you made it to the finals?
DeRozan: I’m not sure. I gave one of them to [Indiana Pacers swingman] Paul George so hopefully he’ll do it this year. I’ll be cheering for him. I’ve known him since high school, he’s a good friend of mine.
What’s the best Dunk Contest dunk ever?
DeRozan: Vince Carter’s 360 windmill.
Would you like to see the All-Star game come to Toronto? How would you pitch the city to the league?
DeRozan: Ya, that would be cool. It’s the most diverse city in the world. We’re the only NBA team in Canada. It would be a great experience, the first time ever. It would be big for this whole country.
What’s your favourite road destination?
Bargnani: I like the places that have warm weather; Miami, L.A., and Orlando. It’s nice to go to those kind of places when you play in a city like this with a cold winter.
DeRozan: New York.
What’s your least favourite road destination?
Where’s one place you’ve never been that you’d like to travel to?
Bargnani: I travel a lot. I’d love to go to Africa.
Where can you find the most beautiful women in the world?
If you could tell David Stern the one thing you would change about the league, what would it be?
DeMar: I’ll get fined if I say what I really want to say.