Bargnani appears poised to flourish

STEVE BUFFERY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 12:57 PM ET

TREVISO, Italy -- Head coach Sam Mitchell expects a heated training camp this week with two starting spots wide open.

The big fight will be at the centre position. Last year's starter, the veteran Rasho Nesterovic, was replaced in the first-round playoff series against the New Jersey Nets by rookie Andrea Bargnani. Now it will be up to the 21-year-old Bargnani to out-perform the 10-year veteran Nesterovic this pre-season.

The Raptors are hoping that Bargnani earns the spot, as it will show that his game has improved from last year.

"I'm going to give (Bargnani) every opportunity, again based on what he did in the playoffs," Mitchell said yesterday. "But, if he's going to start at that position, he's got to rebound. That's part of that position."

The 7-foot Bargnani averaged 11.6 points but his 3.9 rebounds were not particularly impressive for a player of his size and athleticism.

As for Nesterovic, the Slovenian has said that he is fine with the prospect of having to fight to hold on to his starting job, and Mitchell is thankful for that.

"All I know is, if you're pouting, then you really don't have a chance," the coach said, adding that the players should be pleased that there are starting jobs open at certain positions, although T.J. Ford (point guard), Anthony Parker (shooting guard) and Chris Bosh (power forward) are locks to start.

"If anything they should be: 'Hey, coach has an open mind.' So they should be pleased," Mitchell said.

"Those jobs are going to be determined through the scrimmages and how you play."

The battle at small forward should be interesting, although newcomer Jason Kapono is expected to emerge as the starter.

If Kapono falters, another newcomer, Carlos Delfino, could emerge, or could second-year NBAer Jorge Garbajosa, who started 60 games for the Raptors at the small forward or power forward last year.

Garbajosa, however, is coming off a serious leg injury.

Mitchell said that the battle for minutes at camp in the pre-season should lead to some tension on the court.

"But that's good tension," the coach said. "Right now it's too early to even try to contemplate who is going to start at what position. And it may come down to that decision not being made until a week before opening night (Oct.31)."

BRIEFLY

Four members of the Raptors front office -- Wayne Embry, Jim Kelly, Marc Eversley and Masai Ujiri -- made the five-hour drive from Treviso to Milan yesterday to check out Italian teenager Danilo Gallinari.

Gallinari scored 11 points in 18 minutes in a 69-61 win by Milan over Naples.


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