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DeMar DeRozan laments gentrification has hurt L.A. high school teams that shaped him

Former Compton High star DeMar DeRozan on Tuesday during a panel discussion.
(Luca Evans / Los Angeles Times)

With every summer, the landscape shifts, gentrification seeping into the infrastructure DeMar DeRozan calls home.

When spring melts away and the final buzzer sounds on DeRozan’s NBA season — echoing this year after a first-round series loss to the Milwaukee Bucks — the former Compton High star returns to Los Angeles. It’s a city, though, different from 15 years ago, when his deep-sea-blue No. 23 Compton jersey rocked rims. The Forum was long the “big thing” in Inglewood, he said. Now the city has the gleaming SoFi Stadium.

“Over time, you look up,” DeRozan said, “and Inglewood is going to be like Beverly Hills.”

After speaking during the final event of Tuesday’s LA84 Foundation Play Equity Summit, DeRozan reflected for a moment on the “crazy” change he saw year after year in his hometown.

His 30-point outbursts in cramped high school gyms are immortalized in grainy YouTube highlights. But as the years have passed, the competition as DeRozan knew it has crumbled, corresponding with a decades-long drop in enrollment among public schools.

The once-mighty football programs of LAUSD schools such as Crenshaw, a few miles north of the Forum, suffered engagement so low that games had to be canceled this past season. Long Beach Jordan High basketball, a Moore League rival in DeRozan’s Compton heyday, went 10-16 last year and 0-12 in 2021. Fremont, a stout 21-8 opponent for the Tarbabes during DeRozan’s senior season, didn’t win a game last year.

“It’s one of those things that’s real sentimental, especially with ... how much high school mattered coming up,” DeRozan said of the local decline in competition. “For me, seeing where it’s at now, it’s kind of sad.”

His high school coach, Tony Thomas, left Compton to coach Rancho Dominguez.

Support for public high school programs was emphasized at the summit, which featured panelists ranging from the Lakers’ Russell Westbrook to California First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom. She said a physical fitness advisory council has held “listening tours” across the state to better understand students’ and administrators’ concerns.

“[We’ve] also looked at the difference between private schools that give kids some physical fitness outlet every day, and public schools that have been limited. And that’s not right to me … that’s something that needs to be addressed right away,” Siebel Newsom told The Times.

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How could public programs be built back up? It was hard for DeRozan to pinpoint an answer.

“I hope things take a turn for the betterment,” he said.


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