|The Raptors dropped the interim tag on new head coach Jay Triano on Monday. (Sun Media/Dave Thomas)
Six Americans have tried and failed to turn the Raptors into contenders.
Now, a native son will get a chance to do the job.
Canada's only NBA team announced yesterday that 50-year-old Jay Triano, of Niagara Falls, has been signed to a three-year contract.
Triano took over as interim head coach for the fired Sam Mitchell on Dec. 3.
Under Triano, who was once so low on the coaching depth chart that he had to sit in the row behind Toronto's bench, the Raptors went 25-40. The team was 12-15 after the all-star break, highlighted by a 9-4 finish.
Triano, who served under Lenny Wilkens, Kevin O'Neill and Mitchell, was ecstatic that seven years of hard work have paid off.
"I've put in a lot of hours," Triano said.
"Seven days a week, eight in the morning to 12 at night, and I feel like I'm being rewarded.
"I was fired a couple of times by this organization, but luckily, a new coach came in and hired me back," he added.
Triano said that while being Canadian might have helped him get hired originally, it was his reputation, record of success internationally as both a player and coach, and the connections he has made, that got him this far.
"I don't think I got this job because I'm Canadian," he said, adding that president/general manager Bryan Colangelo told him a few years ago when he was having doubts about why he was with the team: 'You need to win basketball games, it doesn't matter what nationality you are.' "
According to Colangelo, the team did its due diligence, but in the end, kept coming back to Triano.
"(Triano) was given not the most ideal circumstances, but showed up with a positive attitude and the players responded," Colangelo said.
"It didn't necessarily pan out in the form of wins all the time, but it did pan out in the form of respect from the players."
Colangelo said Triano was his choice because they are on the same page philosophically -- both favour a fast-paced team that moves the ball well -- and because every player on the team, including star Chris Bosh (who can opt out of his contract next summer) was in favour of Triano's return.
"I've been around long enough to know you've got to get your key guys to buy in and that buy-in is definitely there," Colangelo said.
Triano and Colangelo both said no decisions have been made about who will fill out the coaching staff, but Marc Iavaroni, who joined the team as an observer late last year, has a history with both men and a team source indicated all signs point to him joining the team soon.
Triano made it clear that defence will be his primary concern.
"Last year, we were not real strong defensively and I know that's the department we have to get a whole lot better at if we want to be playing at this time of year," he said.