Taste of Italy for Raptors

STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:28 AM ET

The Raptors will announce the hiring of Italian basketball executive Maurizio Gherardini as the team's new assistant general manager as early as today.

And that means it's a good bet that Toronto will draft Italian forward Andrea Bargnani with their first pick on June 28.

Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo has been talking to Gherardini about relocating to Toronto for a while. Gherardini's Benetton Treviso squad defeated Climamio Bologna in the Italian championship series 3-1 -- and the highly respected basketball executive is now free to move on.

The 7-foot Bargnani played for Benetton Treviso this season, as did forward Uros Slokar, the Raptors' 2005 second-round pick.

Colangelo, who has Italian roots, is said to covet an assistant with extensive ties to European basketball and Gherardini certainly fits the bill, winning five Italian titles with Benetton and making four appearances in the European Final Four.

In his previous job as GM of the Phoenix Suns, Colangelo hired Mike D'Antoni, a coach for Benetton on two occasions, as his coach.

Meanwhile, the Raptors worked out five draft-eligible players yesterday, four of whom likely will go in the top-10 in the June 28 draft, with two -- forwards Rudy Gay of Connecticut and Adam Morrison of Gonzaga -- possibly at the No.1 spot. The club also worked out Toronto native Denham Brown for the second time. There's a chance the Raptors may take the former Connecticut shooting guard with one of their second-round picks (35th and 56th overall).

Just a few months ago, Brown was considered a long-shot to be drafted by any team, but his stock has soared to the point where he could actually go late in the first or early in the second round.

"I went to Orlando (pre-draft camp) and really showed what I can do," Brown said of his new-found respect. "I guess GMs and coaches really need to see in person what I can do."

Brown said it would mean the world if he was picked up by his hometown team.

"I'm really proud to be from Canada and starting my career here would be something really great," he said.


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