Bargnani is all the rage

STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:24 AM ET

LAS VEGAS -- At the end of the NBA Summer League game between the Raptors and Washington Wizards on Thursday night at UNLV's COX Pavilion, a courtside volunteer handed out copies of the final box score.

Most people gave the slip of paper a quick read and then tossed it aside, though a couple of fellows were spotted folding their copies neatly and then placing it inside their laptops for safe-keeping.

Asked to explain this act of crazed lunacy, one of the paper savers suggested that the boxscore might be worth something someday as the game marked the first taste of NBA action for Toronto rookie Andrea Bargnani.

Come on, the man was told, one Summer League games does not a legend make ... On the other hand, there does seem to be buzz surrounding this Bargnani kid.

We don't know for sure what the deal is back home in his native Italy. One can only assume that the nation shaped like a boot is in full party mode with the Azzurri preparing to meet France for World Cup glory tomorrow.

But as the Raptors' rookies and free agents trained this week for the five-game Summer League, requests began to flood the Toronto front office for Bargnani interview requests. As we speak, a healthy delegation of Italian print and TV reporters are making their way to the Nevada desert, even with Italy in the World Cup final. Requests also have come in from various U.S. magazines and newspapers.

What is it about Bargnani that is attracting such attention?

Is it because he's 7-feet and can shoot the lights out?

Is it because he has got matinee-idol good looks? (I'm told this).

Is it because he's the first overall pick in this year's draft and he also happens to be white?

Hey, spare me the lecture. Before taking on this basketball gig, I spent time covering pro boxing and I know white boxers tend to get an inordinate amount of attention compared to others. In case you haven't noticed, race issues still are part of everyday life, and in pro sport.

Still, one can only assume that when Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo drafted Bargnani with the No.1 selection last month, he was thinking only about what the kid can do for his team on the court, and nothing else. After four years of missing the playoffs and alienating their fan base, the Raptors are in dire need of someone to come riding in on a horse. Of any colour.

Again, one game is only one game, but the book on Bargnani from Thursday's contest was, well, a near best-seller.

In just under 30 minutes, Bargnani put up 20 points, shooting 9-for-16 from the field, and two for five from three-point range, while adding four rebounds and two blocked shots.

He also picked up six fouls and turned the ball over four times and was not always a beast on defence.

Besides what he did in the boxscore, Bargnani did a lot of nice things, at least offensively. When the game ended, Colangelo was bouncing around like a proud father of newborn child.

Unfortunately, head coach Sam Mitchell was not around to share his boss's enthusiasm. Halfway through the contest, Mitchell began to feel sick and had to return to the team hotel -- leaving the post-game analysis to his first assistant, the always personable, often amusingly sarcastic, Jim Todd.

"I mean, he's awesome," Todd said. "He has to work on his defence, and he knows that. But as far as his overall performance, we're totally pleased with the way he played. He's an outstanding offensive threat from anywhere on the floor and he handles the ball equally well with both hands."

Todd said one of the team's goals for the 2006-07 regular season is to improve significantly on the defensive end of the floor, which shouldn't be that tall of an order. The challenge, in Bargnani's case, will be for the coaching staff to encourage his offensive skills and allow him to mesh with the team's other young stars, namely Chris Bosh and T.J. Ford, while, at the same time, teaching him the nuances of team defence.


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