No European vacation for Raptors' Calderon

Jose Calderon jumps around Germany's Chris Kaman during Euro Basket 2011. Thanks to the tournament...

Jose Calderon jumps around Germany's Chris Kaman during Euro Basket 2011. Thanks to the tournament and practising with Barcelona, Calderon feels ready for the coming season. (AFP)

Mike Ganter, QM I Agency

, Last Updated: 11:25 PM ET

Bryan Colangelo has taken more than a few shots for his penchant for European-based players, but in a lockout-shortened season, that affinity for non-North Americans might just turn out to be an advantage.

Case in point were two of the first four arrivals in Toronto, Andrea Bargnani and Jose Calderon.

Neither man was busily searching for pick-up games in the off-season because both were taking part in the European basketball championships and for at least the two months leading up to that event and as long as their teams were alive, had all the basketball they needed.

Compare that to the NBA player who stayed in North America. Even if they religiously followed a workout routine,they weren’t playing high-intensity games or preparing for those games with the same kind of passion someone representing their country would be.

Bargnani’s tournament ended after just five games, but Calderon and the victorious Spanish side played 11 games at Eurobasket before they were crowned European champs on Sept. 18.

Calderon followed that up with a month and a half of two-a-day workouts with Barcelona’s second team.

Barcelona 1, or the senior team, already had a 13-man roster and with both Pau and Marc Gasol, Barcelona natives and therefore had first dibs on the local team, joining them they weren’t interested in anyone else taking up any of their practice time.

Calderon said he fully enjoyed working out with the second team.

“For me it was perfect,” Calderon said. “I was out there twice a day with young guys running up and down playing five on five, playing different positions, (point guard, shooting guard or small forward) because sometimes they needed me in a different position so it was fun. It was a nice month and a half in Barcelona.”

Not that the lockout was all kicks and giggles. Like most of those in the NBA, Calderon made it his business to stay up to date on the negotiations. His ace in the hole was former Raptors teammate Anthony Parker, who sat in on every meetings and kept Calderon up to date via e-mail and the odd phone conversation.

At one point, Calderon thought the worst-case scenario for the negotiations would become reality.

“I’ll be honest, yes, there was a point where it looked like the whole season would be cancelled and that was tough,” he said.

Until then, Calderon had rebuffed all advances to join a European team. From the very beginning of the lockout he made it clear to everyone that until the season was actually dead, he would not entertain or even listen to offers.

When it looked like the season was toast, Calderon, knowing there could be up to 420 players vying for contracts in Europe he and his representatives started to research their options.

“We wanted to be ahead of those guys so we were asking what the options would be,” Calderon said.

But then as soon as he started asking the negotiations picked up steam again and now Calderon is back in Toronto looking like he could start the season today if he had to.

Not even the prospect of a schedule that will include back-to-back-to-back games this season on at least a couple of occasions has him at all concerned.

“Actually we are used to the (condensed schedule) in Europe,” Calderon said. “We did it in Eurobasket. We played something like 11 games in 15 days so it happens.”

Actually it was 11 in 19 days, but it did include games on at least three consecutive days on one occasion.

“We’re used to it. You have to be ready. You have to eat right and do all those things we are always talking about . There are no new tricks to get you through those 66 games.”

With only 10 players under contract at the moment and no where near the star power of some other NBA teams, the Raptors don’t appear to have many advantages going for them heading into the season but a core of game-ready players like Calderon seems to be one advantage they can point to.

CASEY’S PRESENCE ALREADY FELT

Dwayne Casey isn’t allowed any real contact with his players just yet, but while the new Raptors head coach may not be around physically while the players get in some informal workouts at the Air Canada Centre, he’s never really far from their thoughts either.

“His emphasis is defence, defence, defence and just getting stops,” eager sophomore centre Ed Davis said.

James Johnson and Jose Calderon, two other early arrivals had pretty much the same summation of the man who will be directing the team for this season and the forseeable future.

Casey only had a small window to talk to his charges before the lockout made conversation with them an impossibility. Nevertheless, his message got through and no one showing up so far expects anything short of a complete defensive overhaul.

The big question is why anyone thinks Casey will be more successful than Jay Triano or Sam Mitchell, the two men who came before him and who both tried to emphasize defence.

Perhaps Davis has the answer to that question.

“With his mentality, it’s going to be: ‘You play defence or you’re not going to play,’” Davis said.

It sounds simple, but if he follows through, Casey should be able to get their attention.

— Mike Ganter


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