Raptors coach still confident

STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:19 AM ET

It is three games into the regular season and Raptors coach Sam Mitchell looks like death warmed-over.

When asked about the large bags under his eyes, Mitchell admitted yesterday that he managed zero sleep on Saturday night, after his team was humiliated by the Detroit Pistons, 117-84.

"It's tough," a weary Mitchell said following an optional practice. "But I'm not going to lose my zeal. I have to keep being optimistic.

"I believe in these guys, truthfully," the coach added, as if seemingly trying to convince himself.

Mitchell may be optimistic, at least officially. But his team is in big trouble. The Raptors not only have begun the season 0-3, they've been outscored by an average of 15.3 points, outrebounded 147-118 and have shot only 40% from the field while their opponents have shot 49%.

Worse than all of that, the team has shown a remarkable lack of cohesion and has, at times, not exhibited a strong work ethic. And with three rookies and two-second year players in the lineup, the situation doesn't promise to get much better.

Mitchell understands that, but will keep giving his three rookies, point guard Jose Calderon and forwards Joey Graham and Charlie Villanueva, major minutes.

"I've got to keep pushing, prodding and pulling. I have to keep doing that until I pull it out of them," he said. "There's no pill, there's no speech, there's no quick fix. Everybody goes through it (as a rookie), except the 1%: The Magic Johnsons, the LeBron James, the Michael Jordans ..."

One thing Mitchell won't do is dump on his young players, or even his veterans. Mitchell believes that, by far, the work ethic IS there, only that everyone is not yet pulling in the same direction.

"You guys are going to kick them enough," he told a trio of reporters. "The fans are going to kick them enough. I have to put my arms around them and let them know that I love them, that I'm here for them, that I'm in their corner -- through the good times and the bad times.

"We believe in our young guys. We know they're talented, but we also know that it's a process."

Mitchell said that when you open the season against four strong teams (Washington, New Jersey, Detroit and LeBron James' Cleveland Cavaliers tonight), it's tough to build momentum.

"Charlie has never seen anything like he saw against Detroit," Mitchell said. "He saw Ben (Wallace) and Rasheed (Wallace) and then Antonio McDyess. And then Darko (Milicic), 7-foot-2, coming into the game."


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