Raptors take A game to Sick Kids

Raptors forward Andrea Bargnani plays Nintendo Wii with Zaheer Dhalla at the Hospital for Sick...

Raptors forward Andrea Bargnani plays Nintendo Wii with Zaheer Dhalla at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Ont., March 29, 2012. (MICHAEL PEAKE/QMI Agency)

MIKE GANTER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:59 PM ET

TORONTO - Eliminate the moments Dwane Casey is focused on his family and the betting here is you could count on one hand how many wakeful hours he spends on non-basketball related activities from Oct. 1 through the end of the season.

Thursday was the exception to that rule.

On Thursday, with practice time still as valuable as ever, the Raptors’ head coach ran his charges through their paces in a little over an hour.

On Thursday, basketball took a backseat to real life.

Thursday the Raptors made their annual trek to The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.

How important was this day to Casey?

Wednesday night after knocking off the Denver Nuggets in one of the more surprising turns of this topsy turvy season, Casey quickly congratulated his players for a job well done and then got down to the priority.

Casey stressed the importance of every player and member of the organization taking part in the following day’s visit and being on their game.

Not for the next night’s opponent, but for the kids and the families of the kids in the hospital.

As fathers, men like Casey and Jose Calderon don’t need to be reminded of the impact such a visit can have on a family and particularly a young individual who, through no fault of their own, finds their life restricted to the four walls of a hospital room.

As important as the win over Denver was to bolster his young team’s confidence, dwelling on something as trivial as the result of a game just didn’t compare with the importance of the impression each and every one of them could leave on the patients and families they would visit the next day.

The visit is just one of many community service outings the team engages in over the course of a season, but for Casey in particular, this one is special.

Casey lost a younger brother after a hospital stint and while he didn’t go into detail about such a personal matter, there’s no way something like that doesn’t stay with a person.

“Yes, it is special for me,” Casey said. “Having children you want to make sure that something never happens to them and if they do you want to make sure they get the best care and as I understand it Sick Kids Hospital is one of the best in the world so I’m excited to see it.”

Casey recalls doing similar visits when he was coaching in Seattle to a hospital there with the entire Sonics team.

“It was one of the best days of the year, going to see the kids and doing whatever you can to make it a special day for them,” Casey said.

And as much as the day is about and for the kids and their families, Casey also considered it another a teaching day for his team. But instead of the usual basketball lessons to learn, he wanted his players, particularly the younger ones who haven’t been through something like this, to learn the power simply being associated with a professional sport gives them.

“Some of our (younger players) might not understand the magnitude of the moment and what it means for these kids who are sick, some of whom unfortunately might never come out of the hospital, to have (a professional athlete) pat them on the back or say something kind to them and make that moment in their life brighter.”

In his seventh season with the Raptors, Calderon is well versed on the importance of the day and with a young family, like Casey, is well aware how easily he or any of his teammates with kids could be in the same place.

He admits it can be a difficult day for some players who might not be as comfortable dealing with such serious life and death matters but says the team is careful not to put anyone in a situation they aren’t ready to handle.

“You are going to see some tough things and if you don’t feel comfortable with it, you don’t go to that floor or that room,” Calderon said. “We try to divide it up so everyone gets (a visit).”

The Raptors would eventually go back to thinking about the Miami Heat, who visit the Air Canada Centre Friday night, but for a few hours Thursday afternoon, the focus was on bringing whatever joy or comfort they could to a group of kids and their families who have seen little of either.


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