Ford sees stars on horizon

T.J. Ford has some lofty goals for the upcoming NBA season. (Sun File/Craig Robertson)

T.J. Ford has some lofty goals for the upcoming NBA season. (Sun File/Craig Robertson)

STEVE BUFFERY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 1:02 PM ET

TREVISO, Italy -- The Raptors have a reputation for being a fairly tight-knit unit, at least by NBA standards.

One of the things that head coach Sam Mitchell took great pride in last season was how close his team was and how sometimes the guys would dine all together on the road.

That might not be a big deal in most professional leagues, such as the NHL, but in the individually minded NBA, dining out en masse as a team is pretty rare.

Which is not to say that there aren't any cliques.

The Spanish guys, Jorge Garbajosa and Jose Calderon, naturally stick together and, in fact, sit beside each other in the Raptors locker room at the Air Canada Centre.

The same goes for Chris Bosh and T.J. Ford, a couple of Texas boys who were born on the same day (March 24), exactly one year apart.

Wherever you see Bosh, you generally see Ford, and that hasn't changed despite the fact that the club has travelled 6,838 kilometres for training camp.

When Mitchell blew his whistle at the Benetton Treviso training facility yesterday (or La Ghirada as it is known to the locals) to put an end to the morning practice, Bosh and Ford wandered to the bench and sat down beside each other.

They're pretty well inseparable and have lots in common, including the fact that both are considered excellent young players and are two important reasons why the Raptors are considered one of the rising teams in the NBA.

There is one main difference, though.

Bosh, at 23, is a two-time all-star while Ford, 24, has yet to attain that status. But in a one-on-one interview yesterday, Ford vowed to change that, predicting that this season he will become an all-star, though that is a very tall order given the fact that there are a couple of point guards in the Eastern Conference named Jason Kidd and Dwyane Wade.

Still, Ford has set that as his main individual goal.

"That was my mindset going into the summer," said the 6-foot, 165-pound guard, who believes that he has the game to be an NBA all-star.

For that reason, he spent a good part of the summer training on the court, and in the weight room, hoping that the added muscle tone in his upper body will help him to maintain his strength during the regular season when he gets injured or sick, which is pretty well inevitable over a 82-game schedule.

"I hit the weights hard, like I did in my sophomore year in college," Ford said. "Because I lose strength pretty easy when I'm injured and I can't work out."

Ford's numbers were certainly impressive enough last season. His 14 points per game were second best on the team and his team-best 7.9 assists were sixth-best in the NBA.

Ford believes with the Raptors emerging as one of the better teams in the NBA, his game will parallel the team's improvement.

But the real concern for this upcoming season, he said yesterday, is not whether he will improve as a player, but whether the Raptors will become too comfortable with themselves.

"We made a great jump last season and are setting ourselves up to be one of the premier teams in the NBA," he said.

"But we have to work hard to maintain that because people are going to expect that from us now.

"I think everyone will be curious how we're going to start off and whether we can maintain a winning record the whole season, and whether or not last season (winning the Atlantic Division) was a fluke. But we don't think it was a fluke."

Ford believes it was a good idea to hold training camp in Europe because it will give the team an advantage in terms of bonding.

"You have to talk to people and ask them what they did in the summer, and it creates a lot of dialogue that you probably wouldn't get if you were around family, because everybody would go separate directions."

The one direction Ford expects to go this season is due south, to New Orleans, site of the 2007-08 NBA All-star game.


Videos

Photos