Bargnani feels the heat

Toronto Raptors' No. 1 pick Andrea Bargnani already is under intense media scrutiny at training...

Toronto Raptors' No. 1 pick Andrea Bargnani already is under intense media scrutiny at training camp. (Toronto Sun/Michael Peake)

STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:11 AM ET

WATERLOO -- Raptors rookie Andrea Bargnani still has a lot to learn about life in the NBA, but he's obviously a quick read.

A few minutes into an interview with about a dozen of his new media buddies yesterday, Bargnani, who already seems less than thrilled with media scrums, was asked if he felt that he has a lot to prove this season -- a legitimate question given that he was the first overall pick in the 2006 draft, and the first European so honoured.

"No," he snapped, before turning and walking away -- just like a guy who has been around the NBA for years.

Everyone had a good laugh about that, except Bargnani, who better get used to being under the microscope this season because, whether he likes it not, he's constantly going to be compared with all the guys who were selected behind him.

All the other guys the Raptors could have taken.

And when the microscope is out, it often burns, and Bargnani won't be the only one feeling the heat.

So too will head coach Sam Mitchell. He didn't draft Bargnani, GM Bryan Colangelo did, and Colangelo certainly will expect Mitchell to press the right buttons in terms of Bargnani's development. Colangelo's reputation as one of the best talent evaluators in the NBA is at stake.

If Bargnani struggles and doesn't play a lot, Colangelo will no doubt be criticized for selecting the wrong guy with the first pick.

If Bargnani struggles and does receive a lot of playing time, Mitchell will be accused of playing the rookie, to the detriment to the team, because he is under pressure from upstairs.

And we're not talking about God.

It has all the makings of a soap opera.

Of course, all will be well if Bargnani steps up right away and demonstrates that he is a bonafide NBAer.

Still, Colangelo refuses to acknowledge any of those scenarios.

The former NBA executive of the year insisted that patience, when it comes to Bargnani this season, will be one of his virtues, and no one will push the panic button if the big Italian fails to come out of the gate flying.

"I'm one for instant gratification and I hope it works, but realistically, things take time in this business and you have to take one step at a time," Colangelo said. "Andrea is just one story here. There's a quite a few stories happening, this is a completely overhauled roster ... we're trying to improve on a 27-win campaign from last year, which I'm certain we will do.

"Whether or not Andrea becomes a focal point, I think if it happens and he develops and he's playing a primary role in the process, I think it's terrific. If it doesn't happen, it's not a failure. You have to judge these things over a period of time."

It generally takes big men longer to develop in the NBA and not only does Bargnani have to learn the NBA game, the stringbean forward has to gain weight and strength, has to learn English, become acclimatized to his new city, get to know his teammates ... it's not an easy transition.

"The one thing I will say about Andrea," Colangelo said, "is I think he deals with pressure well and that's something we looked at when we were (investigating) his background. I saw it first-hand watching him as a very young player compete in a very hostile environment over in Europe."

Mitchell knows this as well, having played pro ball in France for two seasons.

"I think the only time he thinks about it (being the No. 1 pick) is when you guys ask him. You have to understand the pressure these guys have on them in Europe in their home countries. The pressure these guys have at home is unbelievable," Mitchell said. "I tell people all the time I had more pressure on me playing in Europe than I ever had in the NBA. I had two three-year guaranteed contracts in the U.S. Over there, you lose two, three games in a row, they send you home.

"Andrea is going to be ready to play. It's my goal to get him some minutes. I don't have a target of minutes, but I've got an idea where I want to play him."


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