09/30/2014 06:22 EDT | Updated 11/30/2014 05:59 EST

DeRozan's off-season improvement project involved writing ABCs with daughter

TORONTO - Part of DeMar DeRozan's summer improvement project involved writing out the ABCs for his daughter Diar — with his left hand.

It was a chance to both spend some quality time with his 16-month-old, and to strengthen his weaker hand. All summer long, the Toronto Raptors all-star used his left hand to do things like eat, tie his shoes and carry his bags, all in an effort to become a more versatile player.

"When I was kid, I would be frustrated, I would always ask my dad why I couldn't do certain things with my left hand that I can do with my right. Just a curious kid. Ever since I was young I always tried to get as comfortable doing stuff with my left hand," DeRozan said Tuesday. "So just reverting back to that, to when I was a kid, getting more comfortable.

"In a game, we naturally want to finish with our right hand, because that's our dominant hand, but just being comfortable doing it with our left hand, if you happen to need it."

The 25-year-old wrote out the alphabet virtually every day during the summer, he said.

"It looked like my daughter's writing," he said, prompting laughter from the couple dozen journalists at training camp.

On whose writing is more legible: "We're neck and neck right now."

More laughter.

DeRozan cracking jokes in front of the cameras says plenty about the once-shy Raptors guard who has evolved into a strong and vocal leader in his five seasons in Toronto. Before the Raptors took the Air Canada Centre for their opening day of camp Tuesday, coach Dwane Casey gave DeRozan the floor.

DeRozan told his teammates "Hey, let's have a good practice, this is where we start creating defensive habits, it starts now, not next week or after the first game, it starts today," Casey recounted. "So that was huge too."

"I knew it was going to happen, I just didn't know when, because he was such a quiet kid," Casey said of DeRozan's evolution. "DeMar is a young man, he's a father, a proud father, family man, and a lot of that just goes right into maturity. We all want to rush it, especially in sports, but it something that just takes time."

DeRozan took two big steps toward being a more mature player last season, said Casey — first, when Rudy Gay was traded to Sacramento last December, and then when he was named an all-star.

"I just thought last year after the trade, he just took off after that. He made huge strides and said 'Hey look, I'm putting this team on my back, and we're going with it.'

"It kind of shifted over. . . Rudy was the guy so-to-speak and it just shifted over back to DeMar and to Kyle (Lowry) and I thought that gave him a voice in the locker-room."

DeRozan is coming off a breakout season, leading the Raptors to their first post-season appearance in six years and then helping the United States to gold at the FIBA World Cup.

For all he has accomplished, he still feels disrespected in some circles. Sports Illustrated put DeRozan 61st in the league in their pre-season rankings, lowest out of all the returning all-star players. He took to Twitter and wrote "Real disrespectful! #ProveEm"

Those slights might as well be motivational slogans for DeRozan.

"That's fine with me. I like having a chip on my shoulder. It just gives me another reason to work hard whatever it may be, it gives me another reason. I feel like they're doing me a favour, honestly," he said.

"I don't let anything go over my head at all, I'll use every negative thing, not just about myself but my team, as motivation. You need to. I'm never going to get comfortable with the accomplishments I've made."

DeRozan's left-handed project was just latest in his neverending quest to improve.

His experience with the American team at the World Cup was another chance to learn. It took him out of his comfort zone, he said, which he relished.

Raptors GM Masai Ujiri met with DeRozan upon his return.

"I asked him what he had learned from his experience there, and to show you how he's matured as a person, he said he respects players that come off of the bench more just because that’s what he did there," said Ujiri. "He treats them great anyway. But he said he has more respect and he'd treat them with more respect because of what they have to do night in, night out when they are called upon. I thought that was great maturity on his part."

Casey echoed Ujiri's thoughts.

"I think that's going to be very important for him, to have empathy for his teammates. . . he already does. He's one of the best teammates that guys could have, as a leader and as a star. There's not a selfish bone in his body as far as not respecting guys at the end of the bench."

The Raptors travelled to Vancouver on Tuesday and will continue camp in Burnaby, B.C., on Wednesday. They'll host the Sacramento Kings on Sunday in their pre-season opener in Vancouver.

NOTES: The Raptors had Brent Gleeson, a Navy Seal, speak to the Raptors on Monday night. "He talked about his experience of being a navy seal and how teamwork has to be part of, in his business, living," Casey said. "In our situation, it's not as dire, not as serious, but a lot of things that he said, we can connect with as a team, togetherness, talking about trust, talking about communication, talking about togetherness. All those points hit home."