One big happy family

Raptors coach Sam Mitchell is happy to see his team bond while training in Europe. (Sun Media...

Raptors coach Sam Mitchell is happy to see his team bond while training in Europe. (Sun Media File/Michael Peake)

STEVE BUFFERY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:45 AM ET

MADRID -- Sam Mitchell has a knack for turning a question into an accusation, a personality quirk that generally results in a good laugh more times than not.

Ask the Raptors head coach for the time, and he'll demand to know why you care. Is it because you're late for a bank heist?

Or something along those lines.

In any event, quirky Sam was at it again yesterday, turning an innocent query into something much darker.

The question was: "Are the players still getting along after spending two weeks together in Europe, often in close quarters?"

To Mitchell, the question was an underhanded way of planting the suggestion that all is not well with the team.

"Why do you all find it so difficult (to accept) that there are people who play professional sports who can set aside their ego for the betterment of each other, and the team, and not worry about it?" he said. "You guys are always trying to (invent) a rivalry between my point guards (T.J. Ford and Jose Calderon). Well, we went out for dinner (Tuesday) night and two guys who are sitting together are T.J. and Jose. And we didn't have a seating chart. They sat together because they like each other.

"Why would you believe different?" he continued. "These guys get along great. And it's not fake, it's not manufactured, it's not nothing we try to set up. These guys organize outings on their own. I stay out of it."

There have long been suggestions that the Raptors are a close-knit group, particularly by NBA standards, where individuality off the court seems to be the way to go. In fact, two-time NBA all-star Chris Bosh said this is the closest team he has been on.

"By far," he said. "It's a funny thing. I don't know when this started. It just sort of happened. It's like, you have dinner one time, you hang out one time, and it's fun, and you want to do it again."

The Raptors are likely the most diverse team in the NBA, with 11 Americans, two Spaniards, an Italian, an Argentine and a Slovenian, not to mention an almost all-Canadian support staff.

But, for whatever reason, it has worked.

The dinner Mitchell alluded to was organized by Calderon and, according to reliable sources, a good time was had by all. The players all tried Spanish food and nobody cut out early. One attendee said that, all evening, the players waved their napkins in the air, and chanted "Jose, Jose, Jose, Jose..." You know the one.

"These guys genuinely like being around each other," said Mitchell, adding that he has done very little in the way of forcing his players to bond.

"You try to do that as a coach if it feels like the guys are trying to disconnect from each other," Mitchell said. "But we don't have guys who get on the bus with headphones on and, soon as everybody gets on the bus, they pull out their cell phone.

"We rise together, we fall together," he said. "That's the only way I know. I believe it in the deepest part of my soul, and I'll always feel that way."

Mitchell said this Raptors team reminds him of the Indiana clubs he played on between 1993-95, when the players got along because they all accepted their roles without question and only cared about winning.

"Nobody ever complained about minutes," he said. "Guys that didn't play in the game, we came in (to practice) early and got our workout in. We weren't upset, but we knew we had to stay ready. And our teammates depended on us."

Of course, no one knows if the so-called chemistry on the Raptors translates into more victories than the 47 they picked up last year.

In fact, it's likely that chemistry will not be enough for the Raptors to hold on to the Division title and advance past the first round of the playoffs. They also need Bosh to remain healthy, Ford and Calderon to continue to improve, and for Andrea Bargnani to start rebounding.

Chemistry can't score 20 points, pick up 10 rebounds or defend.


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