Tough love works for rookie

MIKE GANTER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:42 AM ET

Track Andrea Bargnani's minutes per game this season and there's a definite spike on the graph.

On Nov. 20 in a game in Utah, the Raps had just lost five in a row and would lose one more before righting the ship, but it's what happened in between that fifth loss in Denver and the sixth in Utah that changed Bargnani's status.

The event was brought to light in a fine story by Chris Broussard in ESPN The Magazine's March 12 issue.

According to the piece, Raptors head coach Sam Mitchell rounded up six of his big men on an off-day in Denver and took them to a local health club. He placed a ball under the basket and instructed one to get the ball, another to keep the first from getting it. After two hours of brawling, the coach had his answer. Bargnani had the fight necessary in him to excel in the NBA.

Asked about that day in Denver Wednesday in Houston, Mitchell said the drill wasn't so much for Bargnani as it was for the coach himself.

"I was very pleased," Mitchell said. "He got in there and he didn't complain. He showed me he wanted it. He showed me when it gets down and dirty, he's willing to get down and dirty, too."

Mitchell said more than anything else, that day gave him the confidence he needed to give Bargnani the kind of playing time he has enjoyed since. Bargnani has not taken a step back since. That next night in a game against Utah, Bargnani had his most complete NBA game to date scoring 15 points, and contributing with a couple of blocks, a steal and three rebounds. More importantly it began a stretch of significant minutes for the man they call "Big Rook."

Bargnani has been limited to less than 20 minutes in a game on only three occasions since that fateful day in Denver and is presently chasing Portland's Brandon Roy for rookie-of-the-year honours.


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