A work in progress

Andrea Bargnani drapes himself with a towel on the sidelines during Raptors training camp in Ottawa...

Andrea Bargnani drapes himself with a towel on the sidelines during Raptors training camp in Ottawa on Thursday. (Sun Media/Tony Caldwell)

MIKE GANTER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:09 AM ET

OTTAWA -- Eric Hughes and Gord Herbert aren't the first names that come to mind when talk turns to the Raptors taking that next step, but they're playing major roles in that happening.

Both men spent the better part of the off-season overseeing the development of various Raptors and it meant plenty of travel for both.

Hughes in particular, whose title is basketball development consultant and who joined the Raptors just before the start of last season, was all over the map this summer.

Beginning two weeks after that Game 5 loss to Orlando, Hughes went to Alabama, moved to Dallas, travelled to Vegas for three weeks, back east to Tampa, up to Atlanta, back to L.A. and then back to Toronto.

Over that span he worked with -- individually and in groups -- Jamario Moon, Chris Bosh, Andrea Bargnani, Hassan Adams, Anthony Parker, Joey Graham, Will Solomon and Jason Kapono.

"The title is development," Hughes said. "That's what you do in the summer. It's not to say you don't do it during the season, but you have 82 games and it's a fine line between how much extra work they can handle and how much rest they need. But in the summer, you just bust their humps."

Keith D'Amelio, one of the Raptors assistant trainers in charge of strength and conditioning, also racked up some frequent-flyer points with visits to Vegas, Italy, Dallas, L.A. and Tampa as he worked to improve the fitness level of various Raps.

"I don't think any of us were happy when we lost in the first round," Raps assistant coach Jay Triano said. "We know we have to get our guys better. So the guys we didn't trade or the guys we acquired, we wanted to make sure that we had people working them out. The NBA, it's probably like a lot of professional sports -- the summer is not time off, it's time for a lot of these guys to get better and they use it and they're using us to do it."

Herbert, a former Canadian national team player, joined the team as an assistant coach in July and worked exclusively with Bargnani this summer. He was with the Raptors coaching staff for the summer league in Vegas and then stuck around for four days to work with Bargnani.

A Canadian who lives in Finland and has coached in Europe for the past 13 years, Herbert returned to Europe and rejoined Bargnani for 12 days of two-a-day practices in Treviso. The two met up again in Milan for more intense training before heading back to Toronto for a week of informal workouts in advance of training camp.

All of that was part of a summer that general manager Bryan Colangelo refers to as "the most positive that I have seen in terms of development in my whole career."

Bargnani's overhaul -- physically and mentally -- is getting the lion's share of the attention but there's also the steps Bosh took with Team USA and its summer of redemption, and a stunning re-dedication to fitness that has Jason Kapono in the best shape of his life.

WORK IN PROGRESS

Herbert, who had a front seat for Bargnani's transformation cautions that the Italian is still a work in progress.

"The whole idea was, he is a great shooter and we wanted to complement that with other things," he said. "Work in the post, get a post-up game, get a go-to move in the post that he feels comfortable with, work on attacking the basket from the perimeter to complement his jump shot. We just kept it simple, where he's doing a couple of things very well and where he gains confidence."

The results of all this off-season work have been apparent already in training camp, but the real proof won't come until the games begin.


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