Heavy load for Bargnani

STEVE BUFFERY

, Last Updated: 9:24 AM ET

Andrea Bargnani was in uniform at the Air Canada Centre last night, and contributed 16 points in a 94-81 Toronto loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, but his heart was back home in Italy.

Thousands of miles and another continent away, Bargnani's grandfather is seriously ill and the rookie was supposed to be at his bed side.

However, Bargnani's flight on Friday night was cancelled because of the snow and ice storm that moved through the GTA. The rookie had spent eight hours at Pearson International before heading back to his downtown apartment.

The forward is slated to fly out today and is expected to return in time for Toronto's game in Washington against the Wizards on Tuesday night. Head coach Sam Mitchell said Bargnani elected to play last night. But he wants to get home as soon as possible in case the worst happens.

"I'm okay," the low-key Italian said prior to last night's game. "Of course (when something like this happens), it's better if you're at home. But I'm here."

RALLY AROUND TEAMMATE

Needless to say, the Raptors are rallying around their young teammate, as is Mitchell, who can relate to what his rookie is going through. Mitchell played in France for two seasons (1987-89) as a young pro and said being away from family is tough when you're an ocean apart.

"It's tough because you're 8-9 hours away on an airplane," the coach said. "That's something people don't understand. They just look at the money and the fame. I tell people all the time, I can never get back the years that I missed travelling and playing basketball, with my father. "

Mitchell's father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer when the Toronto coach was playing for the Minnesota Timberwolves in the early 1990s and he would fly after most home games to Atlanta and then drive home to Columbus, Ga. to spend a day or two with his dad. That went on for over a month, until the senior Mitchell passed away.

"You have to do what you have to do to take care of your family. But that doesn't make it any easier. That's what I respect about Andrea," Mitchell said "He's not asking for any sympathy."


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