Lucas can help Bargnani

Andrea Bargnani's coach and teammates feel that there are too many expectations on him. SUN...

Andrea Bargnani's coach and teammates feel that there are too many expectations on him. SUN FILE/Jack Boland

STEVE BUFFERY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:52 AM ET

Raptors head coach Sam Mitchell has figured out one way to help struggling centre Andrea Bargnani get his game back on track.

It's not a quick fix, by any means.

Mitchell believes that his young centre should spend some time next summer working out with former NBAer John Lucas, who has established himself as one of the best trainers of professional basketball players in the world.

Raptors point guard T.J. Ford, who recently has been given the green light to begin training after suffering an arm stringer on Dec. 11, is in Houston working with Lucas.

Mitchell acknowledged that part of Bargnani's game which needs work is his toughness, particularly under the boards, and that's something he would be able to work on next summer, as the scrimmages at the Lucas camp reportedly are as tough as it gets.

"It's like a war down there. It's like, hold, grab, hit. And that's what our guys need," said Mitchell, who also will encourage other young Raptors, such as Jamario Moon and Joey Graham, to attend Lucas' camp during the off-season. "They've got everything they need (treatment-wise) but when you go in that hellhole of a gym, they beat the s--- out of each other. And that's good. That's where you really learn how to play. There are no referees blowing their whistle, you have to call your own fouls. You argue a little bit. It will be good for all of them.

"And that's when the (hard-ass) in Andrea will come out. Because he has it in him," Mitchell continued.

The Raptors, as usual, rallied around the besieged Bargnani yesterday.

After a remarkable rookie campaign, in which he was named to the all-rookie team, Bargnani has struggled this season. He is averaging 8.7 points and 3.4 rebounds, both down from last season, and even his patented sweet shot is missing. In his past five games, the seven-footer is shooting 20% from the field (6-for-30).

Still, Bargnani's coach and teammates feel that there are too many expectations, and, with that, pressure, on the Rome native.

"He's a young guy, he's a great player, a great person, just give him a break," said teammate Rasho Nesterovic, who lost his starting centre job to Bargnani this season.

"He doesn't need a thousand people around him telling him what to do, and what not to do," Nesterovic added. "He doesn't need a thousand coaches, just one. And that's the only one he should listen to."

Nesterovic acknowledged that Bargnani set the bar high for himself by having such a solid rookie campaign, in which he averaged 11.6 points and 3.9 boards.

"So now it's his second year and everyone expected him to do much better than last year," Nesterovic said. "So you put a lot a pressure on yourself, so it's normal.

"He's struggling, but he's going to be there and we just have to have confidence in him," the Slovenian national team star added. "We can't quit on him after one year."

With that, Mitchell concurred.

"It blows my mind ... why can't we give him time?" Mitchell said. "When I came into the league, first-round picks didn't play. People used to give first-round picks time to grow.

"Who thought Dwyane Wade would be like he is now?" Mitchell added, referring to the Miami Heat point guard, who struggled in his rookie year. "Everybody wants Andrea to be (great) right now. And I do too. But I've been in this league for 20-some years and I do know that it doesn't happen overnight for everybody. But if you work hard, and develop, keep your head up and have talent, it will come.

"Just leave him alone, he's 22 years old," Mitchell said.

Bargnani and the Raptors face the red-hot Boston Celtics tonight at the TD Bank-north Garden.


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