Raptors will have to hustle

MIKE KOREEN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:30 AM ET

If Donovan Bailey is looking for some extra spending money, he might want to give the Raptors a call.

The Olympic champion sprinter probably could offer the Raptors some valuable advice on how to keep pace with the man who will drive their offence -- lightning-quick new point guard T.J. Ford.

Much has been made about new Maple Leafs coach Paul Maurice's emphasis on conditioning this season. That same approach will have to hold true with the Raptors now that Ford is -- literally -- running the show, as his teammates discovered in workouts the past three weeks.

NEW FACES

The pass-first Ford, 23, will be one of 11 new faces (nine have guaranteed contracts) in training camp today in Waterloo when the Raptors have their first of four days of two-a-day workouts. The Raptors have an open scrimmage to wrap up their Waterloo stay on Saturday.

"To keep up with T.J., you do have to be in your best shape," Raptors swingman Morris Peterson said yesterday as the team gathered for media day at the Air Canada Centre.

"You've always got to have your eyes and hands ready because you never know what's going to come."

While the Raptors' new international recipe for success has been widely documented, one of the most important building blocks -- Ford -- comes from the heart of Texas.

Acquired by president/general manager Bryan Colangelo in the trade that sent promising sophomore Charlie Villanueva to the Milwaukee Bucks this summer, Ford fits perfectly into the team's plan to run and run some more.

Peterson said Ford is the first true point guard he has played with since he teamed with Mateen Cleaves at Michigan State.

"It has not been an adjustment at all ... just run the court," Raptors guard/forward Anthony Parker said when asked what it is like to play with Ford. "Everybody run the court and he'll find the best option.

"It's actually a lot of fun."

Ford took on a leadership role of his own in the off-season, calling Fred Jones as part of a successful recruiting effort and also giving Pape Sow a buzz after the young forward suffered a serious neck injury in summer league workouts.

Ford knows a thing or two about what Sow is going through, as he missed all of 2004-05 while recovering from neck surgery.

Ford's attitude about his contract situation also has to please the Raptors braintrust.

The Raps have until Oct. 31 to sign Ford to an extension, otherwise they risk losing him as an unrestricted free agent next summer. While his predecessor at point guard, Mike James, wasn't shy about talking dollars and cents last season, Ford seems to be taking a different approach.

"I've been through the ups and downs so a contract, it's not anything that's on my mind," Ford said.

"If I come out and do the things I'm supposed to do, I'll be rewarded. I'll leave that in the hands of Mr. Colangelo and my agent. That will not dictate the way that I play and the way I perform."


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