Rasho gets pumped up

STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:51 AM ET

Rasho Nesterovic is more adept with rebounds than rim shots, but he did provide reporters with a laugh yesterday.

Chuck Swirsky, the highly-enthusiastic voice of the Raptors, could hardly contain himself during a radio interview with the team's new centre, closing out their on-air chat with: "Rasho, you're going to love it here in Toronto. Trust me!"

After a slight delay, with a perfect dead-pan delivery, Nesterovic replied: "Yeah ... I trust you."

Now all he has to do is trust his instincts that Toronto is a good place to be. The Raptors acquired the 7-foot centre from the San Antonio Spurs, along with cash, for Matt Bonner, Eric Williams and a second-round draft pick on Wednesday.

In a conference call from his native Slovenia yesterday, Nesterovic assured everyone he is excited to be going from a perpetual winner, where he played alongside Tim Duncan, to a team that hasn't qualified for the playoffs in four years.

"It's a new challenge," Nesterovic said. "The Raptors are a really young and talented team and with some work and some luck, there's a big possibility in the next three, four years to become one of the top four, five teams in the league."

Nesterovic, 30, provides the Raptors with a legitimate starting centre who actually wants to play in Toronto. That's something that could not be said about the likes of Alonzo Mourning of the world champion Miami Heat, Eric Williams, Vince Carter, etc.

The Ljubljana native said he is looking forward to playing in Toronto because this burg most resembles a European city.

But the big question is how is he going to fit in with young all-star Chris Bosh in the Raptors frontcourt? Nesterovic said he will do everything he can to just fit in with the 22-year standout.

"I will do the best I can, defensively and offensively, to fit in, because I'm the new guy," he said.

Nesterovic added he is looking forward to playing under head coach Sam Mitchell, the same guy he played with for four seasons at Minnesota.

The Raptors confirmed the hiring yesterday of former Benetton Treviso boss Maurizio Gherardini as their new vice-president and assistant GM, the first hiring of a European to a senior management position in the NBA.

Gherardini, 51, built Benetton Treviso into one of the most recognizable basketball organizations outside the NBA. He has led Benetton to four League championships, three Italian supercups, two Eurocups and four appearances in the Euroleague's final four.

Gherardini assured reporters yesterday his hiring does not mean that Italian forward Andrea Bargnani, a key player on his Benetton team, is a slam dunk to be drafted by the Raptors first overall on June 28.


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