While working on his game this summer, Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan went back to the basics.
Eager to improve his left-handed dribbling and ability to finish plays, DeRozan ate with his weaker left hand, used it to pick up items around the house, and even sat down regularly to write out the alphabet with his infant daughter.
"I was doing it every day in the summer," DeRozan said. "It looked like my daughter's writing. That gave me something to do and I could show her her ABCs."
Not that his penmanship is better than 17-month-old Diar.
"We're neck and neck right now," DeRozan joked.
But like his game, it's a work in progress.
DeRozan, a first-time all-star last season who also played for the USA's gold medal-winning team at September's World Cup, probably won't rest until he can crank out a letter-perfect alphabet as easily as he drops in a left-handed layup. After posting career highs of 22.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 4.0 assists for Toronto's first playoff team in six seasons, he isn't about to rest on his laurels.
"I'm never going to get comfortable with the accomplishments I've made," DeRozan said. "There's always going to be something."
Besides trying to become ambidextrous, DeRozan has also worked to develop his voice, establishing himself as a leader in Toronto's locker room.
"He's getting older, he's getting mature," point guard Kyle Lowry said. "He's understanding what he has to do and he knows he's a franchise player."
Through most of his first three years on the job, Raptors coach Dwane Casey waited patiently for DeRozan to take on the role of team leader.
"I knew it was going to happen, I just didn't know when," Casey said. "He was such a quiet kid."
Things changed last December when the Raptors traded Rudy Gay to Sacramento, creating an opening for DeRozan.
"After the trade, he just took off," Casey said. "He made huge strides and said 'Hey look, I'm putting this team on my back and we're going with it.' That was a big step. Once he made the all-star team, I thought he took another big step toward maturity, toward being a leader."
Casey asked DeRozan to address his Raptors teammates before Tuesday's opening workout, and was delighted with the message.
"He spoke up and said 'Let's have a good practice. This is where we start creating good defensive habits and it starts now, not next week or after the first game.' That was huge," Casey said.
Just as huge for DeRozan's development was his inclusion on the USA squad that brought home gold from this year's World Cup in Spain. Playing in a reserve role on the star-studded roster gave DeRozan a double dose of hunger and humility.
"A lot of guys in my position get comfortable being a starter," DeRozan said. "Sometimes you have to get uncomfortable to realize what you could work at or what you could get better at. Sometimes it may not be basketball, it could be something mental, to help push you over the edge. That's something I definitely took from it."
When Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri met with DeRozan after the World Cup, the first thing DeRozan wanted to talk about was his newfound respect for the challenges faced by bench players.
"He treats them great anyway, but he said he has more respect and would treat them with more respect because of what they have to do night in and night out when they're called upon," Ujiri said Monday. "I thought that was great maturity on his part."
Perhaps the best part of the international experience was the chance to swap secrets and strategies with the cream of the NBA. DeRozan found plenty to talk about with Cleveland guard Kyrie Irving, comparing notes on how to get through traffic in the paint and finish at the rim.
"You kind of take some and give some with each person there," DeRozan said. "I think it's great."