State of joy

MIKE KOREEN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:39 AM ET

MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Here in Boston Celtics territory, only one man can convince fans to switch allegiances.

In his homecoming last night, local boy Matt Bonner did that and more.

Given the first start of his NBA career 15 minutes from his hometown of Concord, N.H., thanks to a classy move by Raptors coach Sam Mitchell, New Hampshire's lone current NBAer took advantage of the opportunity.

16 POINTS

The Red Rocket, who received a rousing ovation when he was introduced as a starter, scored the first three baskets of the pre-season game and finished with 16 points as the Raptors lost 107-100 to the Celtics in front of 8,868 at 9,400-seat Verizon Wireless Arena.

"It was awesome," said Bonner, just the second player from his tiny state (the other was little-used Los Angeles Clipper Jeff Cross) to play in the NBA. "I don't know how to explain it, especially playing a game where I'm from. That adds all the more meaning to it."

With his parents Dave and Paula and dozens of family members looking on, Bonner hit a long jumper, a jump hook over Paul Pierce and a three-pointer to open the scoring. Later in the first quarter, he stole a pass and then found wide-open Mike James for a three-pointer.

Bonner, the cover boy on the sports section of the local newspaper yesterday, finished the first quarter with 11 points on five-of-six shooting. He played a game-high 35 minutes.

"It goes back to every gym you go in and this is the ultimate goal," Dave Bonner said.

"You go in a gym at like 9 a.m., and it's 80 degrees outside and low humidity and you come out at 5 p.m., and you wonder whether it's all worth it. The odds aren't good at making the NBA and this is just incredible. I'm so proud of him."

Matt Bonner, who signed a two-year, $4-million US deal with the Raptors this summer, moved his parents out of a small condo and purchased a new home for them in Concord recently. They moved in this week.

"I'm pinching myself," Dave Bonner, who continues to work as a mailman, said. "It's heaven."

Mitchell, meanwhile, didn't hesitate in promoting Bonner to the starting lineup.

"I would be less than a human being to say I like Matt Bonner and then we come (here) for a pre-season game and not start him," Mitchell said.

Bonner has made a big impact on basketball in his state. When he started in AAU basketball as an 11-year-old with the Granite State Raiders, there were four teams in his age group. Now, there are 40 to 50. Four players from Bonner's younger brother Luke's New Hampshire-based AAU team are playing NCAA Division I basketball.

"He's a role model for a lot of people," said Joe Drinon, one of Bonner's old AAU coaches. "He's a gentleman who hasn't forgotten where he came from."


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