Il Mago ill at ease in spotlight

Toronto Raptors forward Andrea Bargnani isn't the least bit comfortable being the story of the day....

Toronto Raptors forward Andrea Bargnani isn't the least bit comfortable being the story of the day. (REUTERS/Chris Roussakis)

MIKE GANTER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:44 PM ET

TORONTO -- There are few things in life Andrea Bargnani appears to enjoy less than finding himself the centre of attention in a media scrum.

Even in his fourth year in the league and his NBA credentials being further established with every game, his body language in a scrum screams: ‘Get me out of here.’

Yesterday, after a strong season opener when he led the Raptors with 28 points, Il Mago was, as expected, the story of the day.

As the scrum began, Bargnani was stationed at least three feet from the wall of the Raptors practice gym. But as the scrum grew the 7-foot giant shrank backwards and wound up pinned against that wall trying his best to bring the conversation to an end.

When it finally did conclude, Bargnani politely excused himself, slithered through the throng of microphones and recorders, and only then did he exhale with that telltale sigh of relief that his moment in the spotlight was over for another day.

It’s doubtful that Bargnani will ever get truly comfortable in such a situation, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility. It’s not that long ago that Bargnani had a similar aversion to playing in the low post, but the early indications this season and even sporadically late last year, are that that may no longer be the case.

On his first touch Wednesday night, Bargnani went baseline around a flat-footed Anderson Varejao and finished with a thunderous dunk. Later in the game when the Cavs went small and Bargnani had LeBron James on him, the big Italian took the smaller James into the low post and backed him down twice for scores.

In between, Bargnani was a threat all night from beyond the arc and even, on one occasion, slashing to the hoop where he converted another easy dunk on a pass from Jose Calderon.

Bargnani —no surprise — is reluctant to talk about these latest advancements in his game.

“For sure I’m more comfortable now than I was three years ago,” he offered, “but I still have to improve a lot.”

As for any newfound enjoyment he gets out of venturing into the low post, Bargnani says it was never a case of enjoying it or not.

“I like to do everything on the court,” he said. “I am not able to do everything yet, but that’s why I work in practice every day.”

Chris Bosh knows exactly what Bargnani is going through having been there himself and he see’s the progress.

“It’s coming along,” Bosh said. “When he first got here, it was pretty much the same thing every time. He was always trying to shoot jumpers. But now he’s getting more aggressive and taking it to the rim and his passing has got better too.

“He’s a great shooter, he can take guys off the dribble if he has bigger guys that aren’t as fast,” Bosh said. “He can face up a little more and he’s still a bigger guy so if he has a mismatch he’s taking it to smalls and trying to get to the paint and get a lot of easy shots.”

As coach Jay Triano said yesterday it’s all part of the evolution of a complete player.

The only wrinkle in the plan is that success is going to mean even more facetime with the media.

mike.ganter@sunmedia.ca


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