Mitchell warns rookies of pre-season highs

STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:24 AM ET

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Raptors head coach Sam Mitchell issued a friendly warning for his rookies yesterday, particularly first overall pick Andrea Bargnani.

Beware of the Joey Graham syndrome.

Last year, as a rookie, first-round pick Graham had success in the pre-season, but then crashed when the regular season started.

"He thought (playing in the NBA) was easy," Mitchell said, as his prepared for the team's first pre-season game of the season last night at the Verizon Center. "And then, the regular season hit, and all of a sudden Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson came to play and it was totally different than what he experienced in the pre-season."

Mitchell doesn't want the same thing from NBA newcomers Bargnani, Jorge Garbajosa and Uros Slokar. The Raptors play eight pre-season games and Mitchell expects his rookies to play well, but not to the point where they get too sure of themselves. The Raps open the season on Nov. 1 against the Nets in New Jersey.

"Then it's for real, for keeps," the coach said. "I tell our guys, (veteran players) play a certain level at pre-season and then they play at another level for the regular season, and then, after the all-star break, they play at another level and then for the playoffs, they even take it to another level -- the focus and concentration.

"So you have to be kind of guarded about getting overly excited about what happened (in the pre-season)," Mitchell said.

As for Bargnani, the 7-foot Italian admitted that he was nervous before his first taste of NBA action last night. As the first overall pick, and the first European afforded that honour, he is under considerable pressure to show that he belongs in the NBA. Still, Bargnani said that, for the first few games, he will not try to play over his head.

"I don't think I should start with the idea that I have show something, otherwise I would be more nervous and I would play bad," he said.

Bargnani is a rare big man who can shoot from long-range and that won't change in the NBA.

"For sure, I will shoot from three points," he said. "I don't know if I will score, but I will shoot."


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