Raptors take USC swingman DeRozan with ninth pick in 2009 NBA draft

With DeMar DeRozan's high-flying ability, the comparisons to another player with jaw-dropping athleticism that used to wow the crowd at the Air Canada Centre were inevitable.

TORONTO - With DeMar DeRozan's high-flying ability, the comparisons to another player with jaw-dropping athleticism that used to wow the crowd at the Air Canada Centre were inevitable.

The Toronto Raptors became considerably more athletic Thursday when they selected DeRozan, a freshman swingman out of the University of California and the player that was at the top of their wish list for the past few weeks, with the No. 9 pick in the NBA draft.

The 19-year-old didn't shy away from the comparisons to former Raptors all-star Vince Carter.

"I think it's very valid, especially with my athleticism," DeRozan said on a conference call from New York. "It's great to come to a beautiful city like Toronto. Just coming in being compared to Vince Carter ... I want to try to bring excitement back to Canada."

The six-foot-seven, 211-pound DeRozan, who strode across the stage at Madison Square Garden dressed in an understated dark grey suit and polka-dot tie, is considered one of the players with the most potential in this year's draft and is known for his eye-popping athleticism. He has a 39-inch vertical, he first dunked the basketball when he was six years old, and went on to win the 2008 slam dunk contest at the high school all-American game in Milwaukee.

"The athleticism that he displays is spectacular at times, and I think if he applies himself the right way, works on his game, the coaches hone his skills, there's a chance to get something special," Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo said.

But with just one season at USC under his belt, it remains to be seen how soon DeRozan can adapt to the NBA game. The Raptors say they'll do everything they can to make sure it's sooner rather than later, including working him into the rotation immediately.

"I don't know if you can find that potential by sitting on the bench and playing restricted minutes," Raptors coach Jay Triano said. "We have to find ways to make him better."

"He's a very talented player, and he has a chance to be special," Colangelo said. "Now it's about us putting him in an environment where he can succeed."

DeRozan had been at the top of Toronto's list since Colangelo and Triano saw him practise in Oakland, Calif., several weeks ago.

"About halfway through (the workout, Colangelo) said, 'What do you think?"' Triano recounted. "I said, 'I think this is our guy.' And he said, 'I'm glad you said that because that's exactly how I feel."'

"Not once over an hour-and-45-minute workout did he hesitate, not once did he grimace at the suggestion of a drill, he looked like he was in great physical shape as well," Colangelo said. "As I started to talk to Jay, he almost cut me off and he said, 'I feel the same way.' That workout was definitely a moment where there was a common feeling between Jay and myself."

Colangelo said earlier in the week he had whittled his short list down to five players: DeRozan, Syracuse guard Jonny Flynn, Wake Forest forward James Johnson, UCLA guard Jrue Holiday and Duke swingman Gerald Henderson.

The staff argued as to the order of the five in the couple of days heading into the draft, but the one constant, said Triano, was that "every night when we left, DeMar DeRozan was at the top of the list still."

While DeRozan played just one season at USC, he showed marked improvement over the course of the year, averaging 13.9 points and 5.7 rebounds a night, and leading the Trojans to the Pac-10 title, picking up MVP honours for the tournament.

He's also been compared to Philadelphia's Andre Iguodala, Portland's Travis Outlaw and Charlotte's Gerald Wallace - athletic players who took some time to find their NBA games.

Colangelo and Triano say with his leaping ability and huge wingspan, DeRozan is a decent defender, something the Raptors have had in short supply.

"We've said so much about the lack of athleticism on this team, the lack of defenders on the perimeter, he's capable," Colangelo said.

There were rumours circulating that DeRozan didn't want to play in Toronto, but he dispelled those Thursday.

"That wasn't a factor, I was very happy, very excited," he said.

The native of Compton, Calif., has said entering the draft was a difficult decision, but he opted to leave USC after one season to help support his mom who is battling lupus.

Oklahoma forward Blake Griffin went No. 1 overall to the Los Angeles Clippers. Connecticut centre Hasheem Thabeet went second to the Memphis Grizzlies, while Oklahoma City selected Arizona State guard James Harden third.

Rounding out the top five, Memphis guard Tyreke Evans went fourth to Sacramento, followed by Spanish guard Ricky Rubio to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

No. 9 is the highest pick Colangelo has had in Toronto since he took Italian centre Andrea Bargnani at No. 1 in 2006. Last year, the Raptors selected Roy Hibbert at No. 17, but traded his rights to Indiana in the deal that sent T.J. Ford and Rasho Nesterovic to the Pacers for Jermaine O'Neal.

 
 
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