Mitchell's plan works for Vince

BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:23 AM ET

Vince Carter was asked if he ever had run so much in a practice before.

"Butch Carter," Vince responded without hesitation, referring to his first coach with the Raptors. "Oh, man. Yeah. It was about the same."

This is not to suggest new Raptors coach Sam Mitchell is going to sue Marcus Camby or attempt to steal general manager Rob Babcock's job.

But in terms of straight-forward basketball, the comparison with Butch Carter is a very good thing. By far, Butch was the best coach for Vince since the latter entered the NBA.

Post-Butch, Vince regressed for three years under Lenny Wilkens. Then last season he ducked for cover during Kevin O'Neill's reign of terror, since you never knew when a lamp was going to fly by.

But Mitchell is in charge now, and he says these Raptors have a lot of bad habits to break.

"What is it, seven days to break old, bad habits, or 14 days? Something like that," Mitchell said.

And how do you get it done?

"Just repetition," Mitchell said. "Time and repetition."

As the Raptors opened training camp yesterday with early-morning and late-afternoon practices at Brock University in St. Catharines, the players got an idea of the pace at which Mitchell wants them to play.

TIRED LEGS

Carter approves mentally, although his body has offered some mild disagreement.

"My legs are tired, but I'm good," said Carter, who had ice on both knees following the morning session. "I'm not saying I'm in tip-top condition. I still have a ways to go. But as far as surviving, I'm good. I'm not laying out yet ... when I get (back to the hotel) I will, I promise."

Ironically, Mitchell described the morning practice as "a little slow," because of all the teaching that was going on. Two-a-day practices will continue this week, and Mitchell said the morning sessions mostly will be about teaching and the afternoon sessions mostly will be about conditioning.

"They're very receptive," Mitchell said of his players. "They understand we're trying to change the way we play.

"A lot of these guys have played in systems where they run down to a spot and wait for a play to be called. We're trying to get away from that."

Now, this run-and-gun style wouldn't be so crucial to the Raptors if they had a strong centre and a bruising veteran power forward.

Regardless, the new philosophy eventually should be good news for Carter, once he catches his breath.

By the way, Carter balked at the notion that Mitchell is employing this style with an ulterior motive -- namely, to try to get Carter to drop his trade demand.

"It has nothing to do with, 'Let's keep Vince here,' because this was (Mitchell's) style from Day 1," Carter said. "The first time I spoke to him, he said, 'We're going to run.' That was his philosophy.

"Of course it's hard, because your mind and your body are trained to play one style, and we're playing a totally different style now. So it's a little adjustment. But that's the beauty of two-a-days, which we don't welcome and invite, but it gives us a chance for this stuff to become second nature."

You could argue that there hasn't been much joy in Carter's game for the past three seasons or so. That's because of a variety of factors, including some lingering injuries.

Still, Vince never was happier than when he played for Butch. Exhibiting a deft touch that he never mastered off the court, Butch was hard on Vince, but not so hard that Vince tuned everything out.

So now Vince is mentioning Butch Carter and Sam Mitchell in the same sentence?

Quick, give Mitchell a Butch Carter mask to wear, if it'll get Vince to play like he did in the good ol' days.


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