TORONTO - Andrea Bargnani didn’t really mind the added down time.
He was just coming off two intense months with the Italian national team and while the results weren’t necessarily what the country had hoped, it provided Bargnani with a place to play and get better.
Once the Eurobasket championship was over (the tournament didn’t finish until Sept. 18, although the Italians were done after the round robin) instead of preparing to head back to North America for the NBA season Bargnani had some time on his hands.
Not knowing how long the lockout would last or whether there would be a season at all, it was imperative that Bargnani stay in shape so he made it his business to be on a basketball court every day.
It was finding a court in Rome that got on the Raptors’ power forward’s nerves.
“We had to find the right situation,” Bargnani said. “You don’t want 100 people showing up and watching every work out. I started on the court that I grew up playing at (the crowds found him) and then another court and another. The bad part was the driving in Rome is tough. It took me an hour and a half just to get to practice and then another hour and a half to get back.”
This helps explain why Bargnani is in Toronto so much earlier than his fellow teammates. Bargnani has been working out here for the past month.
“I couldn’t wait to get back here,” he said.
While there was some talk that Bargnani was considering signing with a European pro team as the lockout wore on, Bargnani said that was all coming from someone else.
“No, never, not even close,” he said.
It’s now a little more than two months after things should have started to get busy around the Air Canada Centre practice court. Bargnani was the sole Raptor getting in a workout Friday with Alex McKechnie, the Raptors new director of sports science who oversees all athletic training, rehabilitation and strength and conditioning for the club. By Saturday, Sunday at the latest, he should have plenty of company.
The solitude and having the gym to himself didn’t seem to bother Bargnani at all.
“No, I’ve been working out by myself for a while now,” he admitted. “It doesn’t feel strange at all.”
Bargnani believes the extra rest after the European championships was a good thing for him.
“That was two months of working out twice a day (leading into Eurobasket). It was really tough,” he said.
The Eurobasket experience itself could turn out to be the perfect warm-up for Bargnani. The head coach of the Italian national team is Simone Pianigiani whose club team, Montespaschi Siena has been the class of Italy for the past half dozen years.
Pianigiani may not be a Dwayne Casey coaching clone, but to hear Bargnani tell it their philosophies are very close.
“Siena is known for its defensive play,” Bargnani said. “They have won the past six championships in Italy because of its defence.”
Bargnani has never played for Casey but he seems to know a season where defence is stressed awaits him and he says he’s fine with that.
“I think that’s great,” he said. “Our biggest problems in the past were with defence. We don’t have a problem scoring the basketball. It’s going to be a great thing for all of us.”
As for his own expected move back to his natural position of power forward, Bargnani said it was still too early to talk about it.
“I don’t know. We’re still talking about possibilities,” Bargnani said pointing out that the collective bargaining agreement still isn’t signed off on. “It’s tough to talk now because we really don’t know.
“I’m just very excited to start. Whatever it is going to be, it’s going to be,” he said.
NBA’S FIVE GAMES OF CHRISTMAS
Opening night of the 2011-2012 NBA season just got a whole lot bigger.
Originally scheduled to include just three classic matchups, the league announced Friday that they have tacked on two more games to the Christmas Day schedule.
Beginning at noon with the Boston Celtics-New York Knicks tilt, NBA-starved fans can get their fill of more than 12 consecutive hours of basketball assuming Christmas dinner doesn’t pull you away from the TV.
Following the Celts-Knicks matchup will be a rematch between last year’s NBA finalist Miami Heat and the defending champion Dallas Mavericks.
From there it’s on to Los Angeles where the Lakers and Kobe Bryant play host to Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls.
The two additions to the lineup have defending leading scorer Kevin Durant and his Oklahoma City Thunder entertaining Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic followed by a 10:30 (eastern) start featuring Blake Griffin’s Los Angeles Clippers travelling to Oakland to take on the Golden State Warriors.