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USC BASKETBALL

USC's DeMar DeRozan untangles Web of intrigue

Trojans' star freshman is adjusting pretty well to college basketball, in part because he's able to tune out all that Internet innuendo.

January 10, 2009|Chris Foster

Did ya hear?

USC freshman forward DeMar DeRozan has been a disappointment. He's playing like a freshman, according to insidebayarea.com.

Go figure.

Meanwhile, over on nbadraft.net, the question "Whatever happened to DeMar DeRozan?" is being discussed.

Wait, this just in . . .

DeRozan will be the 12th overall pick in the 2009 NBA draft. It says so on draftexpress.com.

Back at nbadraft.net, he is projected as the 14th pick.

But isn't this the site that was asking "Whatever happened to DeMar DeRozan?"

Yes. But the site's mock draft also compares him to Vince Carter.

Oh, and if you'd like more information, check out DeRozan on Wikipedia.

"I never knew I had a Wikipedia entry until recently," DeRozan says, laughing. "The Internet has everything you need at once, even false information."

These are read-it-now times. But DeRozan is doing his best to live in a vacuum and not get sucked in by the hyperbole, no matter which way the pendulum of public opinion swings.

He arrived at USC as the sequel to O.J. Mayo's one-and-done act last season. Like Mayo, DeRozan was going to carry the Trojans into the NCAA tournament, then bolt to NBA greatness.

Imagine the surprise that he is averaging a relatively paltry 11.8 points and 5.0 rebounds in 14 games. Shameful.

Sitting courtside at the Galen Center, his 6-foot-7 frame hunched over the scorer's table as he watches a few teammates shoot, DeRozan says, "Yeah, this is my sanctuary. Ever since I've been in school people come up to me and say, 'Oh, you're going to be in the NBA next year.' "

Then there's the flip side from the crowd that is starting to wonder.

"College is an adjustment and there is a lot of hard work that you put into this," DeRozan says. "People that don't understand that just say, 'Wow, he's off to a slow start.' "

Talk of the town

The wildest thing DeRozan ever read about himself on the information superhighway?

"After my sophomore year at Compton [High] I was going to transfer to New York and go play there," DeRozan says.

He did go play in New York -- last spring, after his high school season was complete, he scored 17 points in the Jordan Brand Classic, an all-star game.

DeRozan also won the dunk contest at the McDonald's All-American game, impressing judges -- including Julius Erving -- with a gravity-is-merely-a-theory move, tapping the ball off the glass with his left hand and slamming it with his right.

By then, though, the buzz was already amplified. Even Tony Thomas, Compton's coach, called DeRozan "a Kobe Bryant clone."

Yet, as high as DeRozan flies, he also seems grounded.

"You see him out on the court and he's not some arrogant, crazy superstar," says Percy Miller, a freshman guard at USC. "He's Superman without the cape."

Miller and DeRozan have been friends since middle school and were teammates on a club team run by Miller's father, Percy Sr., also known as the rapper Master P.

Like DeRozan, the younger Miller caught fame early, as the rapper Lil' Romeo.

"You see a lot of people out there who don't know how to handle fame," Miller says. "I've seen that since I was 13. I wanted to show him how to handle it."

DeRozan already had a good foundation to work from.

"When he was 10 or 11, we were at a gym and he was going in an arc taking shots from certain spots," recalls Frank DeRozan, his father. "He missed a shot from one spot. I said, 'It's OK.' He told me it wasn't, that he had to start all over again. He kept at it until he hit a shot from every spot."

Everyone expected DeRozan to attend high school at Compton Dominguez, a basketball power. Instead, he chose Compton, which is just up the street from his family's condominium. He averaged 30 points as a senior, leading his team to the Moore League title.

"Dominguez is a big-time program and I wanted to help put Compton back on the map," DeRozan says.

He says he followed a similar philosophy in choosing USC.

Family health concerns -- his father had a stroke in 2004 and his mother suffers from Lupus, a chronic disease that affects the body's immune system -- led him to stay local.

"You only have one mom, and I wanted to make her happy," DeRozan says. "I didn't want to get on a plane and fly five hours if there was a problem."

There was UCLA, of course.

"UCLA is known for winning all those championships," DeRozan says. "I wanted to put the underdog back on top."

Big man on campus

The craziest thing DeRozan every read about himself on the Internet?

"I was going to go play professionally overseas after high school," he says.

Well, DeRozan did go over a sea -- to play for USC in the Puerto Rico Tipoff tournament in November. He had three points against Seton Hall in the opener.

It was a hold-the-Mayo (comparison) performance.

Never mind that Mayo was two years older when he came to USC. Or that he played a position (guard) where the ball was constantly in his hands.

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