Ground zero for Ukic

Raptors guard Roko Ukic works out at training camp in Ottawa last week. (Sun Media/Darren Brown)

Raptors guard Roko Ukic works out at training camp in Ottawa last week. (Sun Media/Darren Brown)

MIKE GANTER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:36 AM ET

OTTAWA -- The physically gruelling part of training camp -- the two-a-day practices -- are over for the Raptors, but for Croatian rookie Roko Ukic, the real work is just beginning.

Ukic, who has been playing professional basketball since the age of 15, has gone back to school under the watchful eye of long-time European coach and former Canadian national Gord Herbert, the Raptors' newest assistant coach.

The subject: Shooting 101. The reason: Ukic's stroke requires a complete overhaul.

How does this happen? How does a highly-touted European basketball player, who averaged 11.4 points per game with European powerhouse Lottomatica Virtus Roma last season, arrive in the NBA at the age of 23 not knowing how to properly shoot?

We'll let Ukic explain.

"Basically, I never worked on my shot," Ukic said. "In Europe I came too young with the first team when I was 15. I wound up skipping parts of my development. In Europe you work on your development until you come into the professional ranks. Once you are with the first team you are just working on the team stuff, the technical stuff. They don't work so much on individual stuff so I'm missing some of the fundamentals, especially on my shot."

Herbert, who has an extensive coaching resume across Europe, admitted Ukic's lack of shooting fundamentals were unexpected.

"I was a little bit surprised because he played for some pretty good coaches in Spain and Italy," Herbert said. "And coming from Yugoslavia, which is one of the best teaching countries in the world, I was surprised. He's kind of a gym rat and I've heard the Split program (the Adriatic League team where Ukic played his first four years as a pro) isn't what it used to be with (Toni) Kukoc and those guys not around, so I think maybe he got caught in between. Being a gym rat he did a lot of shooting on his own and he picked up those kind of habits."

Ask Herbert what part of the stroke needs fixing and the answer is "basically the whole thing."

"Part of the problem is when he shoots he brings it all the way down here," said Herbert, bringing an imaginary ball down to his knees. "And now it has so far to go. His left hand winds up over the ball, so there are a bunch of things. That's why we're starting from ground zero and just doing plenty of repetitions the proper way so it becomes natural for him."

Ukic understands patience will be a necessity but he already has shown plenty of that in his career.

"It will take some time," Ukic admits. "I will probably go through some tough times, but I know I have to work on it. I can hit shots for two or three games in a row, but over five games I can be 0-for-10 or 0-for-12 over the other two or three. I am just not consistent.

PASS FIRST

"I'm not the type of point guard who will take 10-15 shots a game, but for sure when I'm wide open I need to hit it no matter whether it's a mid-range jumper or a three-pointer," he said. "The problem with my shot is it is different all the time. Sometimes I shoot perfect and sometimes I shoot completely some other way."

The good news is Herbert believes that with some hard work this month he and Ukic can totally remake the kid's shot by the time the regular season starts. The better news is Ukic is just about the perfect student.

"He has got great basketball instincts and he has a great basketball feel and he understands the game," Herbert said. "He's a tremendous kid, the kind you really enjoy working with. He listens, he absorbs, he tries. He's the first one out on the floor, the last one to leave."

The other good news is that with Will Solomon in camp and looking comfortable running the point, Ukic and the Raptors have the luxury of time to do this overhaul properly.


Videos

Photos