Colangelo sets sights on Canadian West

STEVE BUFFERY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:51 AM ET

MADRID -- It looks like the Raptors are going to forsake the paella and calamari ripieni for some bison burgers or Alberta steaks next season.

GM Bryan Colangelo proclaimed that his club's 14-day odyssey to two of the great capitals of Europe has been, by and large, a success, but added that it's time again for the organization to reach out to the fans back home. The Raptors haven't played a pre-season game in Canada, outside of Toronto, for two years, but that will likely change next year.

"There's quite a few places (in Canada) that are interested in hosting the Raptors (next season)," Colangelo said, prior to Toronto's game against Real Madrid at the Palacio de Deportes de la Comunidad de Madrid, the club's third and final pre-season game on this European road trip.

"If we can make the schedule work out and the right deal can be struck, we'll certainly look to make it happen," he said. "It's part of our mantra, we are Canada's team."

The Raptors have already settled on a couple of pre-season games in the western United States next season and Colangelo thinks it's a good idea to make a stop in Canada, adding that Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg have already made overtures. Former NBAtown Vancouver, which is hosting an NBA pre-season game this on Oct. 26 featuring Canadian Steve Nash and the Phoenix Suns against the Seattle SuperSonics, is also a possibility.

The NBA have really been pushing their brand in Europe and China, and Colagnelo was more than happy to have his team take part in this Europe Live 2007 Tour. But the Raptors still have work to do in selling their game, and their team, to the rest of Canada. The club has been a success story in Toronto, but they've never really become Canada's Team the way the Blue Jays did, particularly during the Jays' glory years of the early 1990's. TV ratings outside of Toronto have never been great and one way of attacking that problem is scheduling games in various cities throughout the country.

The Raptors had done a pretty good job of that over the years, but there is still the black eye from Oct.23, 2003, when a game in St. John's, Nfld., against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers was cancelled because of moisture on the court. The cancellation couldn't be helped, or at least that was the official line, but then GM Glen Grunwald made a promise to the sellout crowd at Mile One Stadium that the team would return within two years.

They never have.

And it won't next year, but at least some fans out west will get the chance to see a team with more jump than the squad that took to the court at the Palacio last night. The players are clearly tired and anxious to get home. Still, Colangelo said that he has no regrets about this year's trip to Europe, which featured two games in Rome last week and last night's contest against defending Spanish League champions Real Madrid, as well as a six-day training camp in Treviso.

But he did learn some valuable lessons for next time, reiterating that there will be a next time as he is a big advocate for tours and games overseas.

"We'll probably look to have a period of practice, similar to what Cleveland is going to do before they head off to China (next week), at home," he said.

After spending six days in the relative tranquility of Treviso, where the Raptors conducted camp on the grounds of La Ghirada, the training facility for the Benetton Treviso basketball, volleyball and rugby teams, the club moved on to Rome, where they were run off their feet with tours and personal appearances and practices, not to mention the two games.

By the time they touched down in Madrid this past Monday, there were a lot of weary faces on the team bus.

"A lot of things like appearances and store openings and court launches, those are all great, and we're going to do them one way or the other. It's just probably finding a better time in the schedule," Colangelo said, of the next time.

"But our guys rolled with it, (head coach) Sam (Mitchell) rolled with it, I give a lot of credit to the way he handled himself and the team throughout this whole (trip)."


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