Baby steps for Bargnani

MARK KEAST -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:17 AM ET

Much of the talk at Raptors training camp and in the pre-season has revolved around the new-found European influence in the lineup.

At the centre of that is first overall pick Andrea Bargnani, who made his home-court debut last night in the Raptors' 118-112 win over the Boston Celtics.

A case of nerves was the story early on for the rookie. In the end he walked out with a fairly workmanlike effort.

Now, no one is talking rookie-of-the-year honours just yet. But for a Raptors team looking for consistent signs of improvement in their rookie, 13 points and five rebounds in just over 22 minutes had management types feeling pretty good.

Much better, in fact, when you compared last night's game to Monday's pre-season debut in Washington, where Bargnani had eight points and five fouls in 13 minutes in an overall inauspicious debut.

"He missed the shots he usually makes (last night)," said Maurizio Gherardini, the Raptors' vice-president and assistant general manager. Bargnani played under Gherardini at Benetton Treviso, where Gherardini was the general manager until he joined the Raptors this past June. "(But) he played with more personality and poise. He stayed out of foul trouble. He played better defensively. He played inside the paint. He did a lot of other things well (compared to the Washington game)."

Said Raptors coach Sam Mitchell: "This is new for him, the speed of the game, the quickness, the way the referees call the game. He just has to get used to it. The more he can play, the more he can practise, the better he'll get."

Bargnani pointed to teammate and fellow rookie Jorge Garbajosa, who also played with Bargnani at Benetton, as someone he's relying on for help, on and off the floor. That says more about the respect Garbajosa has among the team's Europeans than anything else.

"He's older, more experienced. He can teach me a lot of things," Bargnani said. "He was telling me what to do on offence and defence, (telling me to) stay in the right position."

However, Garbajosa, playing a strong offensive game himself last night with 18 points, including two big three-pointers in overtime, was quick to put that in perspective.

"I'm not his teacher. I'm not his mentor," he said "He's a good player. He's 21, but he's like a veteran player, mentally."


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