Meet the United Nations of the NBA

STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:44 AM ET

Sam Mitchell might not admit it, but he is about to become the Dag Hammarskjold, the U. Thant, if you will, of the NBA.

(For you jockstraps who think Francisco Franco pitched middle relief for the Mets, Hammerskjold and Thant were Secretaries-Generals of the United Nations. Famous ones).

The Raptors have become the most diverse club in the NBA, reflecting the city in which they play.

On top of the American lads -- Chris Bosh, Charlie Villanueva, Joey Graham and Morris Peterson -- there's a guy from Senegal (Pape Sow) on the roster, a Spaniard (Jose Calderon), a Slovenian (Rasho Nesterovic), and now an Italian (Andrea Bargnani). There's also another Slovenian in the system (Uros Slokar) and a Croatian (Roko Ukic). The Raps also are said to be close to signing another Spaniard (Jorge Garbajosa).

According to everyone associated with the Raptors, the diversity of this team is a great thing.

But is it really?

Sure, the NBA is becoming more international every year. But no team armed with this many "foreigners" has captured the title in the world's top basketball league.

The Raptors are gambling that 7-foot Bargnani, the first pick in Wednesday's draft, is going to be a star player in the NBA and eventually will lead the team, along with Bosh and perhaps Villanueva, to a championship.

But keep this in mind: For every Dirk Nowitzki, there is a Nikoloz Tskitishvili and Darko Milicic.

The Europeans certainly are making strides, but it's still a much tougher challenge for Euros to adjust to the style of play and the culture of the NBA than it is for most college players. And as the head coach of a team that is not only rebuilding, but rebuilding with a bunch of guys with wild and crazy accents, Mitchell will no doubt have his work cut out for him.

Oddly, he isn't worried. Either he already is drinking the "model franchise" Kool-Aid being dispensed by his new boss or he sincerely believes it, but Mitchell insisted yesterday that this roster full of guys from outside the lower 48 will not pose as a special challenge when the regular season begins.

"People are people. If they are good people, there's no problem," Mitchell said. "I played with Rasho for three years, he's an excellent young man. In Jose, you won't find a finer young man or teammate. To their credit, it has been in them to be great teammates.

"At the end of the day, when you play basketball, it's basketball. If the guy behind you has your back, if he's a good guy, a good teammate, and you care about the guy to your right or left more than you care about yourself, then you'll be fine."

Mitchell, in fact, said that European players bring the advantage of developing in a system that promotes the "team" concept of basketball, as opposed to the "me" concept of big-time college ball, which actually helps in the coaching process.

Still, you would have needed a calculator last season to document the occasions when Mitchell found himself yelling instructions to Calderon or Rafael Araujo or Pape Sow and the words flew right over their heads.

"Jose and I didn't have a (communication) problem," Mitchell said. "We had selective issues."

Mitchell then said with a laugh: "Jose knew when not to listen and I knew when not to try to understand what he was saying."

"My only thing is, do they have a passion for the game?" Mitchell said. "Do they have a passion to play the way it's supposed to be played? Do they have a passion for winning? If you have that, it doesn't matter where you're from."

Spoken like a true Secretary-General.


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