Smart Raps in the zone

DEAN McNULTY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:56 AM ET

Attention Matt Bonner, Jalen Rose and Mike James: Raptors coach Sam Mitchell figures when you were all sent packing, the team got a lot smarter.

Mitchell was trying to explain yesterday why the Raptors were playing better defence this season compared to last.

"I think it's a combination of a lot of things -- smarter players and making more of an emphasis to drill (defence) into the team. We just take for granted that the players don't know it and we (as coaches) are just trying to find the hours to get it done."

A big part of the improved defence has been the zone coverage instituted this season by the coaching staff, Mitchell said.

"When Phoenix decided to go with a small line up we thought we would show them a different zone," Mitchell said. "I took (Jim Todd) aside at a time out and said we could steal a few minutes by playing zone. We showed our team the basic principles of what we wanted them to do and they were able to do it."

BOSH KIDS AROUND

Chris Bosh has launched what he hopes will be an annual kids basketball tournament in Toronto.

His Chris Bosh Foundation will hold the first Bosh's Kids Basketball Tournament tomorrow at Scadding Court Community Center.

The tournament will have eight teams, including one girls' team, for players between 14 and 18 years old.

"We are thrilled with our progress," Bosh said. "This tournament gives the youth of our city the opportunity to showcase their talent on the basketball court."

ITALIAN MEET AND GREET

Raptors first overall draft pick of 2006 -- Andrea Bargnani -- will be honoured in a sold-out Italian Chamber of Commerce of Toronto meet and greet event at the Air Canada Centre's Hot Stove Lounge on Sunday after the game against the Washington Wizards..

To say Toronto's Italian community is excited about having Rome native Bargnani is a vast understatement.

"This is one of the most exciting sports events of the year," ICCT executive director Corrado Paina said. "How often do you get to go one-on-one with a top ranked basketball player? We are proud to be working with the Raptors to promote Italian athletes in Toronto."


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