May 19, 2024

DeMar DeRozan grabs a football, knowing he can show his Chicago Bulls teammates something special.

The six-time NBA All-Star, wearing a black Nipsey Hussle T-shirt and sweatpants, steps up to the 50-yard line, with Zach LaVine standing next to him. Ayo Dosunmu lines up as DeRozan’s receiver and takes off down the field. DeRozan pump fakes and signals for Dosunmu to go deeper before he uncorks a perfect spiral over the head of a team staffer and right into Dosunmu’s waiting hands as his intended receiver walks into the end zone. LaVine’s jaw drops in disbelief.

“I didn’t know DeMar had an arm like that. It’s not a windup, he just flicked it,” LaVine says later. “It was impressive to see that, not a speed or power thing, just the fluid throw. Like, oh my god DeMar. My face said it all.”

It was the final night of the Bulls’ weeklong training camp in Nashville, Tennessee, and the team was touring the Tennessee Titans‘ facility. The tour included a look at an NFL locker and weight room and a meeting with Titans coach Mike Vrabel before the team got a chance to step on the practice field, where DeRozan showed off his skills.

Shortly after his touchdown pass to Dosunmu, DeRozan launched the ball from about the 10-yard line about 60 yards down the field into the hands of another receiver, his teammates’ jaws dropping at DeRozan’s previously unknown quarterback skills.

“None of them really seen me throw a football like that so I figured they’d be shocked for sure,” DeRozan says with a laugh. “You know how everybody say they play football, but I think how easy I threw it and threw it on point was the shocker for sure.”

DeRozan grew up a basketball prodigy. He was already one of the top recruits in the nation by the time he arrived at Compton (California) High School where he averaged 26 points per game as a freshman. But he also played football growing up, though never on an organized team.

“I was always the quarterback in elementary school, middle school, my neighborhood, the street, trying to throw light pole to light pole,” DeRozan told ESPN. “Even when I was in high school, I’d mess around with our high school football team. I’ve just never suited up and put pads on.”

Seeing DeRozan unleash passes in a now viral video after the team’s outing at the Titans practice facility brought back memories for Keith Miller. Now running his own football scouting company in the Los Angeles area, Miller was on the coaching staff at Compton High School when DeRozan attended from 2004 to 2008, and he recalled a similar moment when DeRozan shocked observers with his passing ability.

A young DeRozan was walking the track during the summer between his junior and senior years, heading into the gym for basketball practice while the football team was on the field.

“He’s like, ‘Coach, let me get a throw, let me get a throw,'” Miller recalled during a phone interview with ESPN last week. “I’m like, ‘Man, you don’t play no football, get out of here.’

“‘Coach, let me get a throw, let me get a throw.’ All right, fine. He tells somebody, ‘All right, go deep.’ He goes deep and I’m thinking like, ‘OK, are you going to throw it?’ And he’s like, ‘Hey man, deeper, go deeper.’ And then he uncorks a ball, it had to travel 70-plus yards. I couldn’t believe what I just saw.”

By that point, Miller already knew DeRozan as the basketball star on campus who was headed for the big time. Basketball games at Compton High School became a hot ticket once DeRozan erupted onto the scene and the football team had come out to show support. Miller had already heard the rumors and hype surrounding DeRozan — “he was a freshman and you hear, this guy had a 40-inch vertical, he’s doing 1,000 heel raises at night before he goes to sleep, he’s best friends with Master P’s son,” Miller said — but this was his first time seeing it in action.

Miller was stunned.

“He looked at my face afterwards and then he jogged off the field, just giggling, laughing,” Miller said.

“I always used to be that way,” DeRozan said. “If the basketball team was out on the track, I’d be on the football field, throw the ball crazy far and then walk off. Even at lunch, I remember just throwing the ball [from] one side of the field to the other side, just playing around.”

Even though he had never seen DeRozan’s quarterback arm before the trip to Nashville, Bulls guard Coby White said he wasn’t too surprised by DeRozan’s football talent. DeRozan is 6-foot-6, 220 pounds — for comparison, Los Angeles Chargers QB Justin Herbert is listed at 6-6, 236 — and White has seen some impressive passing skills during Bulls practices.

“In here, he throws the basketball full court with his left arm with accuracy,” White said of the right-handed DeRozan after practice last week. “So, seeing him do that wasn’t really surprising. He just gives off that vibe like he’d be good at a lot of sports.”

Could DeRozan have had a future football career if he had shifted his focus? Miller absolutely believes so.

“We always tried to get DeMar to play, just because at that size and athleticism, he was always going to be pretty unstoppable on the football field,” Miller said. “You just put the ball in his hands as a QB, let him run around and throw the ball, he was going to make a lot of plays. We knew once he had that big junior year … there was no shot of him getting on the football field, but it was a good time joking about it.”

DeRozan agrees that he might have had a future in football if he had chosen that route, comparing his playing style to former Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton, who won NFL MVP honors in 2015.

DeRozan’s late father Frank was a football player, so DeRozan was always watching the game. However, he said his mother never wanted him to play football, seeing the toll the game took on its players, and DeRozan acknowledged he knew it wasn’t the right sport for him.

“I was always just so engulfed in basketball,” DeRozan said. “I always felt like I could’ve played both, but I wasn’t trying to get hit.”

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