EUROPE LIVE NOTEBOOK - Toronto Raptors

ROME, Oct. 6, 2007 -- Take a look at the "From" column on the Raptors training camp roster one player at time and its like flipping through an atlas. Andrea Bargnani is from Italy and this trip has been a homecoming for him. Jose Calderon and Jorge Garbajosa both hail from Spain, so the next leg of Toronto's European trip, Madrid, will be a homecoming for them. Keep going down the list and you get Carlos Delfino from Argentina and Rasho Nesterovic from Slovenia, plus add in the fact that Maceo Baston and Anthony Parker both played overseas before settling down in the NBA and that the Raptors' Vice-Prseident/Assistant General Manager Maurizio Gherardini in Italian and you get the picture.

After six days in Treviso, Toronto's international squad arrived in Rome ready to work and prepare for a showdown with the Boston Celtics in the first preseason game of the NBA's 2007-08 season.

The practice only lasted about an hour and included your basic stretching and running followed by some fullcourt five on five with Sam Mitchell, the reigning Coach of the Year, stopping the action for instruction every couple of minutes.

Here's a run-down of how everybody looked:

  • Jason Kapono, Toronto's big offseason free-agent pickup from Miami, looked very comfortable in the flow of the offense and hit about six of the eight shots he took on the wings in the flow of the game.
  • Joey Graham is as big and muscular as ever and used that athleticism to get to one impossible offensive rebound in traffic.
  • Bargnani finished a tough baby hook in the lane with the defender taking a hack at him causing General Manager Bryan Colangelo to shout an excited, "Yeah, Andrea!" from the stands.
  • T.J. Ford and Jose Calderon were matched up a lot, and it was physical. You get the idea that both of them want to prove themselves as the No. 1 point guard.
  • Chris Bosh is taking on the role of being a vocal leader. At the end of practice he called everybody in to the center circle to huddle up.
  • Jamario Moon's game is smooth. The second round draft pick scored on jumpers and a nifty head fake in the paint that got Rasho Nesterovic off his feet early, leading to an easy drop-in layup.

    Back -to-Back Atlantic Division Crowns?

    Besides the fact that Saturday's game with the Celtics tips of the preseason slate, it's also a chance to play against a division rival. Toronto won the Atlantic last year, but now that Boston boasts Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in addition to Paul Pierce, many have them as the favorite not just to win the division, but the whole Eastern Conference.

    Chris Bosh doesn't buy that.

    "I don't think I would be a good leader if I didn't expect us [to win the Atlantic]," Bosh said. "That's always our goal coming into every season and it should be from now on. We want to win the Atlantic, that's our goal. If we do that we're one of the top three teams in the East and that puts us into a good situation at the end of the season."

    Fun and Games

    After practice was over, Luke Jackson and Jason Kapono competed in a halfcourt shootout that Kapano won 3-2 while on the sideline Sam Mitchell tried bouncing a ball on the floor and have it land on the ballrack about five feet away. After missing his first four attempts, he finally did it on the fifth and let out a triumphant, "Ha!"

    Carlos Delfino saw what his coach was up to and gave it a go himself, landing the ball on the ball rack in his try and let out an even louder, "Ha!"

    Last Man Standing

    The Raptors have 16 players in camp and a full NBA roster size is 15, so one player has to be cut. Five players aren't under contract for next season, so you figure that they are the pool to pick from when seeing who won't be with the team. Out of those five, Jose Calderon clearly seems to be a part of Toronto's future, so you rule him out, and Juan Dixon is an established shooter so he's probably safe too. That leaves veteran guard Darrick Martin, former lottery pick Luke Jackson and Jamario Moon fighting it out.

    Coach and KG

    Mitchell knows Kevin Garnett from their days in Minnesota as teammates and the two have remained close.

    "I talked to him after he was traded and asked him if he was happy and if he felt like it was a good trade," Mitchell said. "He was pleased with it so as long as he was happy, I was happy for him.

    "I saw him last night. He loves being in Boston. He loves his new teammates.

    "I wish him well except for the four times we play him and he understands that."

    Gave Him Goosebumps

    There is a lot of fanfare surrounding Bargnani's return to Italy being that he was runner-up for Rookie of the Year last season, but this experience has been special for Maurizio Gherardini as well. Hired last year by the Raptors after 14 seasons with Italy's Benetton Treviso, Gherardini has been Robin to Barganani's Batman with the Italian media this week.

    "These are very, very strong emotions," Gheradini said. "This is an exciting time in a positive way. It was emotional for me when we had the open practice in Treviso. I was not playing, I was not 22-years old, and still just standing in front of my father who's 80-years old and waving to the crowd, you feel goosebumps all over."

    "I hope [Bargnani] doesn't feel any tomorrow night because he's going to have Kevin Garnett in front of him, but that's the beauty of the sport. That's the beauty of young players growing in any game. My take is that he's going to be ready to go through these emotions."