Being a part of the current 16-man roster for Team USA is just another feather in the cap of 25-year-old swingman DeMar DeRozan, who hopes to survive the final cuts and don the red, white and blue at the FIBA World Cup.
DeRozan's name rang loud in NBA circles during his 2013-14 campaign as he was named to his first NBA All-Star team, averaging 22.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 4.0 assists in 79 games (per Basketball-Reference.com). He was also a major part of the Toronto Raptors' epic turnaround as well. The team won 48 games on route to their second Atlantic Division title in franchise history, as well as coming within an eyelash of the second round of the NBA playoffs.
“I think his focus level [is different],” Harden said during USA Basketball training camp. “He’s not getting sidetracked by the small things anymore. He has one goal and that’s to be the best player he can be and he’s done a great job of it. He’s matured and he’s definitely a great player, an All-Star.”
While a spot on Team USA isn't guaranteed, the mere fact that DeRozan is even in the running to qualify for the roster is something he doesn't take lightly:
“It’s a big deal for me because I kind of represent my country and the country of Canada,” DeRozan said. “I get to show off the two countries that root for me. It’s always fun just to be mentioned in a pool of players that are able to make your country’s team and represent them. It’s a great honour.”
During Team USA's Blue vs. White scrimmage on Aug. 1, DeRozan led all scorers with 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting, knocking down jumpers and getting to the rim with ease. It needs to be reiterated that the game was simply an exhibition showcase, though. Even so, when DeRozan stands out amongst some of the best American basketball talent in the country, it needs to be taken note of.
In a friendly exhibition matchup against Brazil on Aug. 17, DeRozan didn't see a minute of action as he was listed DNP-CD on the final stat sheet. Is that a sign that he should be worried about upcoming cuts?
Jay Triano, former head coach of the Raptors and current coach of Canada's national team, doesn't think that's the case.
Triano said not to read anything into lack of playing time for his current and former charges (Lillard and DeRozan) with U.S. team— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) August 18, 2014
Triano said U.S. likes to bench then play guys a lot instead of small amount of min. Said team still will be excellent despite star absences— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) August 18, 2014
Team USA will play two games at Madison Square Garden on Aug. 20 and 22 against the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.
USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo told ESPN.com that the roster may be reduced to 12 or 13 players after the Dominican Republic game. "We've said we wanted to wait through the end of the week in New York before we made cutbacks," Colangelo said Monday, "but that could still change."
An official 12-man roster must be submitted one day prior to the tournament on Aug. 30.
DeRozan will have to contend with the likes of Rudy Gay, Chandler Parsons, Gordon Hayward and Kyle Korver for one of the final spots as "core players" like Harden, Anthony Davis, Derrick Rose and Stephen Curry are all but locked in, according to Colangelo.
You can make the argument that surviving the cuts could be more of a curse than a blessing for DeRozan, especially if you're a diehard fan of the Raptors. The FIBA World Cup ends two weeks before NBA training camp begins. There's always a chance Toronto's star could get injured, which is made even more frightening after watching Paul George's horrific right-leg injury during USA's scrimmage in Las Vegas.
The wear and tear that comes with playing high-intensity basketball in late August and early September should also be factored in as well.
All that mindset does is create unnecessary paranoia. Go ahead and try and convince the majority that suiting up alongside the NBA's elite is somehow a bad thing.
He wouldn't be the No. 1, 2, 3 or even 10 option on the team. DeRozan's role would be limited to coming off the bench for short spurts as the starters burden a majority of the scoring load. He'd see his fair share of playing time in blowouts (which USA is bound to encounter), but that's about it.
By surrounding yourself with greatness, you learn to become great yourself. By sitting under the learning tree of coach Mike Krzyzewski and assistants Monty Williams, Tom Thibodeau and Jim Boeheim, DeRozan has an endless supply of basketball genius at his disposal to pick brains and ask questions.
If DeRozan's Team USA stint ends before the tournament, it won't be as if he wasted his time trying. He'll take what he's learned and carry that over to his Raptor teammates in 2014-15.
George, who will likely miss the entire year with a compound fracture, has complete faith in DeRozan's ability to continue taking his game to greater heights, per Holly MacKenzie of Raptors.com:
“I think this year was just a taste,” George said. “Now, when he comes back to his team he’s going to know how to get to that level and he’s going to expect a lot out of his teammates to get to that level.”
Christopher Walder is considered by many to be the "songbird of his generation" and the greatest center to have never played professional, collegiate, high school, house league or pickup basketball. His work has been published at Bleacher Report, SB Nation, Sports Illustrated, FanSided and several other online outlets. You may follow him on Twitter at @WalderSports.