DeRozan returns to Compton roots

DeMar DeRozan paints the state of California on a map in the courtyard of Jefferson Elementary School

By Connor Yahn
Medill Reports

COMPTON, Calif. — DeMar DeRozan, like countless other children across the world, dreamed of one day playing in the NBA and becoming an All-Star while watching Kobe Bryant star for the Los Angeles Lakers.

For DeRozan, that dream began in Compton, California, and he has since developed into one of the best basketball players in the world, earning the titles of McDonald’s All-American, Olympic gold medalist and NBA All-Star.

The Toronto Raptors’ guard will be making his fourth All-Star Game appearance on Sunday night, and he will be living out his childhood dreams at the Staples Center.

But before all the praise that will be thrust his way over the weekend, DeRozan spent Friday morning with fellow Raptors’ teammate Kyle Lowry, giving back to the community that raised him.

DeRozan and Lowry partnered with KaBOOM! volunteers to help build a playground for Jefferson Elementary School in Compton during the NBA’s Day of Service on Friday. KaBOOM! is a national non-profit dedicated to giving children living in poverty an active lifestyle.

DeRozan said he was especially thrilled to return to his roots as a part of NBA All-Star Weekend, and to inspire young students raised under circumstances similar to those he once faced.

Compton has long been regarded as one of the most dangerous cities in the United States, and growing up there presents many potential obstacles to success like gang membership, which has increased in the city over the last five years according to the Los Angeles Police Department.

DeRozan addressed dozens of volunteers before the construction work began, and said he and Lowry were excited to do anything they could to help the school that is located “right across the (train) tracks” from DeRozan’s childhood home.

The two All-Stars worked alongside volunteers for about an hour on a beautiful, sunny day in southern California, painting the courtyard area, mixing cement and talking to various classes full of students in awe of the two basketball superstars.

DeRozan said the morning brought back memories of when he was a young kid with dreams of playing in the NBA.

“It takes you back to the moments when you [were] in school,” DeRozan said. “You [were] growing up in that same area and whenever you [saw] anybody that was somebody, your eyes lit up. So to come back and be on the other side of the fence this time around, it’s crazy.”

Lowry knows giving back to Compton means a lot to DeRozan, so he said he wanted to be sure he was there for his teammate. On a weekend where the NBA’s brightest stars are often placed on a pedestal, DeRozan and Lowry both emphasized the importance of helping the local community, particularly the youth.

“It gives us an opportunity to reach them, and with DeMar being from Compton, it makes it a thousand times more special,” Lowry said.

DeMar DeRozan (right) and Kyle Lowry (left) mix cement for the playground at Jefferson Elementary School.(Connor Yahn/MEDILL)

The two guards have occupied the same backcourt for six seasons now, and their friendship has grown immensely since Lowry was traded from the Houston Rockets in July 2012.

“It’s good to see them out here together. It’s only right. They’re like brothers,” said Lowry’s mother Marie Holloway.

Holloway watched proudly as her son brought smiles to the faces of the students and volunteers.

“It’s a mother’s dream to watch her son live out his dreams, and to see him giving back is just so beautiful,” Holloway said.

DeRozan expressed how grateful he is to be in such a fortunate position to help his childhood community, and said he appreciated Lowry’s desire to accompany him to the school.

“In the grand scheme of things, it was one of [those] moments that it’s great to be back home,” DeRozan said, “but it’s even better knowing my man’s in Compton [with me].”

Although DeRozan plays in Toronto now, he said he has never forgotten his roots. He starred at nearby Compton High School and then the University of Southern California for one season before being drafted by the Raptors with the ninth overall pick in 2009.

“I came from Compton, I made it out of Compton,” DeRozan said. “To [these] kids, ‘Be something bigger than I ever could imagine. Go for it. It’s possible.’ I’m a living testament of that.”

Photo at top: DeMar DeRozan paints the state of California on a map in the courtyard of Jefferson Elementary School. (Connor Yahn/MEDILL)