Raptors 905 really looking forward to going this week after nearly two years out of Mississauga

There are big differences between the Raptors 905 now and when current assistant coach Ashton Smith played for the G League team in its inaugural season six years ago.

The staff has doubled, former coach Nathaniel Mitchell is Nick Nurse’s assistant with the Raptors, and the club is returning to play in Mississauga after a two-year absence due to COVID-19.

The only thing that stays the same is the emotion.

“Everybody is ready to go out there and compete and play,” says Smith, in his first year with head coach Patrick Mutombo.

The first home game is Thursday against the Westchester Knicks at 7:30 pm.

“It is a pleasure to be back here in our home gym and to practice, to work together. It feels like a normal we once had, ”general manager Chad Sanders said.

The last time the Raptors 905 played at the Paramount Fine Foods Center? March 11, 2020. They had a four game winning streak, had won seven of eight and were the hottest team in the G League, apparently destined to make a championship. Then his title hopes were dashed.

Like the Raptors, the 905 spent last season in Florida. They finished with the best record of the regular season, but fell short in the second round of the playoffs in the G League bubble.

Sanders says the bubble was a great experience overall, with more downtime and opportunities to meet the players. The hard part, he adds, was the limited reps for players with parent Raptors. When in Mississauga, the organization often treats 905 as a revolving door for young people who weren’t getting NBA minutes.

Even though the G League was relatively close to where the Raptors played in Tampa, it was difficult to move players due to protocols that required a four-day quarantine after exiting the bubble.

Ashton Smith (left) played for the Raptors 905 in its first year of existence and is now back as an assistant coach with the G League team.

“That was the hard part of it all, not being able to operate like we normally would and maybe get guys like Malachi (Flynn) a few more reps,” says Sanders, the 2020-21 G League Executive of the Year. “Once we got him out of the bubble, when some guys were hurt (with the Raptors), it was hard to get him back without missing too much.”

There are only two returnees from last season’s 905 roster, and they lost their top three players: Henry Ellenson, Alize Johnson and Gary Payton II. But nearly 600 days after their last home game in Mississauga, things feel normal again.

“We went back to where we were two years ago,” says Sanders. “There is constant communication between both organizations, the central office and the technical staff to try to find the best time to get representatives of these guys, both in practice and in games.”

Smith, a Scarborough native, says he’s excited to join the team’s staff that made him interested in coaching.

“He didn’t play a lot, but he was always with the coaches, watching movies with them,” says Smith. “On the road, I’d be with Nate watching what he was doing.”

Smith says he talks to Mitchell at least twice a week: “I probably wouldn’t be in this position right now if it weren’t for him.”

As a player, Smith was at times a star, a sixth man, a role player, and the last man on the bench.

“He is excited every day. Eat and sleep basketball, ”Sanders says of Smith. “As a former player, he goes toe-to-toe with the guys and knows exactly what they’re going through. Everything Ashton brings to the table is excellent. “

With the G League regular season underway, the 905 hope to return to the playoffs for the sixth consecutive season.

“I’ve been to Raptors games and some of our subscribers see me and talk to me, and they tell me how excited they are for us to come back,” says Sanders.

“The support from the fans is enormous. We feel like we have a huge advantage when it comes to the G League based on the support of our fans, and we feed off of that. “

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