Bulls’ Rookie Opens Up About DeMar DeRozan After Win Over Cavaliers

DeMar DeRozan, Chicago Bulls

Getty DeMar DeRozan #11 of the Chicago Bulls.

The Chicago Bulls have been hit hard by injuries.

Three of their intended starters have been ruled out for the season, one – Lonzo Ball – before the 2023-24 campaign even began.

Zach LaVine and Patrick Williams have joined Ball on the sidelines. But their absences have created opportunities for others to step up or, in the case of rookie swingman Onuralp Bitim, step into a substantial role (27 minutes) in the win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on February 28.

Bitim finished the win with 10 points on 75% shooting, including 2-for-2 from beyond the arc.

He also snagged six rebounds. His teammates mobbed him in celebration afterward. Asked specifically about his interaction with veteran DeMar DeRozan, Bitim opened up.

“Deebo told me that he was proud of me,” Bitim told reporters in the locker room. “That means a lot to me because I grew up watching him. He was one of my idols. And then now we were on the court together, we won together and then hearing that words from him is a really huge blessing.

“Him, from [Coby White], Ayo [Dosunmu], everybody – [Nikola Vucevic] – they were talking to me in the game, after the game. I’m really very lucky because I have teammates like them and coaches like them.

While he didn’t light up the scoreboard in any particular quarter, he provided timely buckets.

Onuralp Bitim ‘Knew’ His Chance Would Come

Bitim’s rebounding was key with the Bulls light in the frontcourt amid injuries to Williams and backup Torrey Craig.

“I really can’t describe how I really feel. But it’s not about my English, [or] even my own language,” Bitim said. “I was dreaming about this moment for a really long time. And I was really trying to be ready, and my teammates were helping me, my coaches. Because I knew the chance … was going to come.”

Bitim attended Huntington Prep in West Virginia, so the talent has been there. He has also played professionally overseas since 2017-18, meaning the 24-year-old is a rookie by NBA standards only.

Bitim also showed well with the Windy City Bulls in the G League.

“You just never know when, but you just have to be ready,” Bitim said. “We as players need to be ready physically and mentally, and I tried my best to stay ready.

“When I stepped on the court, I was not nervous because that’s what I do. We are basketball players, and I was on the court. So, no, I was not nervous. I was just excited and I was feeling unbelievable.”

Coby White’s Shooting Slump Continues

Bitim’s performance was especially timely for the Bulls with White continuing to struggle from beyond the arc since returning from the All-Star break.

He is still shooting a career-high 38.3% from downtown on the season. But White has shot 22.2% over the last four games, including going 2-for-13 versus the Cavaliers. White has dismissed his heavy minutes as the root cause of his slump.

“I just gotta hit shots,” White said, per NBC Sports Chicago’s K.C. Johnson on February 27. “The ball isn’t going in the basket for me.”

“I don’t try to miss.”