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Mike Ulmer tracks down Andrea Bargnani in Vegas to check on the big man's offseason workouts

Bargnani Putting in the Offseason Work

by Mike Ulmer
--raptors.com

July 25, 2008

Andrea Bargnani is in his hotel room in Las Vegas, talking basketball on the phone.

That fits. He doesnt gamble although how Bargnani is spending his summer does speak to wanting to improve the odds.

Bargnani is working, at Impact Basketball, the de rigueur workout location for roundball. He is also spending sweat it out Tim Grgichs big man camp, August 3-7.

This is the grunt work that pays off in February. But thats not all.

Off season surgeries to remove his adenoids, and more importantly, clear obstructions in his nose mean Bargnani isnt fighting for breath when he pushes himself hard. He hopes the surgery will allow him to reach a level of physical strength that wasnt possible before.

The doctors say it will make a big difference, he said. Im finally able to breathe the right way.

This figures to be a revealing season for Bargnani. The seven-foot-Italian impressed in his first year, but struggled in his second. His defensive troubles and his inability to guard without fouling frequently prompted Raptors coach Sam Mitchell to sit Bargnani down. Bargnani, who played facing the basket throughout his career, struggled in the low post.

But what was tantalizing about Bargnani remains so. He is a seven footer who can put the ball on the floor. He has an untapped but still noticeable ability to pass the ball. And he is only 22 years old.

Last year was up and down, Bargnani said. One night I played 35 minutes and the next night, just 15 minutes. It was the way our team was too, up and down.

The acquisition of Jermaine ONeal is supposed to change that.

I met Jermaine a couple of days ago, said Bargnani. We played a pickup game and we were on different sides. He seems like a really smart, humble guy. Hes a very good player.

A very good player who figures to spent a lot of time playing centre, which sets the wheels in motion.

Would Mitchell envision using Bargnani as a seven-foot-small forward? Bargnani would be able to shoot, almost at will.

The defence could be hard, Bargnani said. It depends on who the other three is. Certainly, on offence I think it could work but guarding a smaller, athletic three might be difficult.

Maybe less so with ONeal and Bosh, more experienced, able defenders, ready to help.

Bargnani said he is looking forward to working with Jose Calderon now that T.J. Ford has been traded to Indiana.

I think this move will help, Bargnani said. T.J. is a great player but having two point guards of that caliber wasnt very good. Someone was going to be upset.

Bargnani said he is looking forward to playing all three front-court positions.

Im working and pushing myself every day. I like to learn and if it happens that I have to play with my back to the basket, it will not be a problem.

The third year is often pivotal for a player. Bargnani, his confidence unshaken by last year, is sure it will be.

I think this year is very important. Im looking forward to it.