Doing it for the kids

STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:59 AM ET

Throughout the losing streaks, trade rumours and noisy journalists, Raptors coach Sam Mitchell said that there is one thing that has kept him eager to come to practice everyday -- beside the usual love of coaching.

And that's the enthusiasm of the young players on the team; rookies Matt Bonner, Pape Sow, Rafael Araujo as well as Chris Bosh and Roger Mason Jr.

"They kind of keep us going -- they let you know that no matter how crazy things get, this is why you want to coach basketball," he said.

Mitchell has had high praise for Bonner in particular. The former Florida star has garnered big minutes off the bench and has responded by averaging 7.6 points and 3.6 rebounds (eighth among NBA rookies in both categories) per game and is shooting .590 (first among rookies).

Mitchell added that he knew early in training camp that the rookie, who is already a huge crowd favourite at the Air Canada Centre, would stick with the Raptors.

"The only way I thought he wouldn't make our team was if he had an anxiety attack and just couldn't play," Mitchell said. "I would never look at Matt Bonner and give him limitations and say, 'He's just a shooter.' Because to me, he's much more. He can defend, he rebounds, he offensive rebounds, sets picks, is smart defensively. To me the sky's the limit."

When it was suggested by a short, squat reporter that Bonner lacks size, Mitchell replied: "Well, you're not that big, but who would have known that you would have been such the great writer?" he said with a chuckle. "Good things can come in small, round packages."

TOUGH TALK

Mitchell was mortified to see a group of Indiana Pacers scrap with fans in the stands in Detroit on Friday, but added that the fans also have a responsibility to control themselves at games.

"If fans want to be crazy enough to walk on to the that court, hey, you're free game," he said. "If you walk on the court, whatever happens to you, happens to you. You don't (have fans) jumping in a boxing ring do you? Because they'd get punched."


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