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DeMar DeRozan shoots during the first day of Raptors’ training camp, in Burnaby, B.C., on Tuesday. DeRozan and the Raps come in to 2016-2017 on the back of their most successful campaign ever. (DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
DeMar DeRozan shoots during the first day of Raptors’ training camp, in Burnaby, B.C., on Tuesday. DeRozan and the Raps come in to 2016-2017 on the back of their most successful campaign ever. (DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Raptors’ DeMar DeRozan hits the books to up his game Add to ...

DeMar DeRozan is a reader.

Among his recent favourite books are Robert Greene’s 1998 hit, The 48 Laws of Power, and 2009’s The 50th Law – another bestseller and collaborative effort from Greene and rapper 50 Cent.

In The 50th Law, 50 Cent draws from historical figures and his own life. For DeRozan, the 27-year-old NBA all-star and the Toronto Raptors leading scorer, the books helped sharpen his confidence, as a person and as a basketball player.

“Being able to face your fears,” said DeRozan in an interview on Tuesday, speaking on the themes in the book. “Not really caring about what nobody else thinks, nobody else’s judgment. Don’t let nobody else’s judgments sway something you feel is right for you. You’ve got to take the risk to figure out who you are.”

The 2016-17 NBA preseason begins this week as teams assemble for training camps. The Raptors enter the preseason on the back of their most successful campaign ever, racking up the most wins in franchise history and their best-ever playoff showing in the form of an Eastern Conference Finals appearance in 2015-16. The team’s top players, guards Kyle Lowry and DeRozan, were on the United States gold-medal Olympic basketball squad this summer in Rio.

Yet everyone on and around the Raptors knows it will be a significant challenge for them to match the successes of last season, never mind exceed them.

Lowry, who turns 31 next March and is looking at a bonanza free-agent contract after the coming season, remains Toronto’s essential leader. But what DeRozan delivers on the court through this winter will be the key to how far the Raptors go. He signed his own jackpot deal this past summer, spurning free agency to stay in Toronto on a five-year, $139-million (U.S.) contract.

Before the playoffs last spring, DeRozan spoke of the lessons learned from being swept in 2015’s first round by the Washington Wizards, how failure could teach success. Now, after losing the Eastern finals last May in six games to the eventual-champion Cleveland Cavaliers, DeRozan said he has a better feel for the playoff journey.

“Understanding it’s going to take even more effort to even get back to that point,” said DeRozan. “Now you kind of have the blueprint of what it takes to win in the playoffs, what it takes to close out series, what it’s like to play multiple game sevens, the intensity, everything.”

The Olympics were a valuable experience, he said. He played the third-fewest minutes on the team, but when he was on the court he was sharp, shooting 59 per cent. To be on such of an elite team, he said, elevated him in all facets of the game. “It’s just a blessing to be one of the 12 guys,” said DeRozan.

On the first on-court day at Fortius Sport & Health complex in this Vancouver suburb, the site of Rap’s training camp for a third straight year, coach Dwane Casey saw changes in the two Olympians.

“I could just see their intensity, their know-how, their expectation to win,” said Casey. “The confidence level is off the charts from both of those guys.”

Casey said DeRozan’s defensive game has improved. His offensive game also evolves.

Up until a couple of years ago, more than a third of his shots were long two-pointers. Last season, he cut that to one-quarter of his shots. As he took his game closer to the hoop, he hit more shots. That said, in last spring’s playoffs, DeRozan reverted to long-distance twos.

“He is who he is,” said Casey. “He does it the old-fashioned way.”

DeRozan’s appreciation for how far basketball has taken him is made obvious in his answers to interview questions. He grew up in the tough streets of Compton, California, in Los Angeles County. Two of his uncles have been murdered. On Monday, speaking on the question of police violence in the U.S., DeRozan said a friend of his had recently been killed by police.

“Some people don’t understand what it’s like growing up in Compton,” said DeRozan. “For me, there’s things that I dealt with growing up. I used basketball as my outlet to channel my energy and get away from that negativity, that depressed feeling, losing somebody close to you.”

Reading became an outlet more recently, when he was injured in late 2014, just as he was establishing himself as a NBA all-star. Since picking up Unbeatable Mind, by Mark Divine, a former Navy SEAL who wrote about resiliency and mental toughness, DeRozan has developed a passion for reading.

“To me,” he said, “it’s a cool thing. You can apply it to sports. You can apply it to everyday life.”

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