TORONTO – Fred VanVleet arrived early for the first day of his rookie training camp, eager to show he was ready for work.
He arrived at 9 a.m. for an 11 a.m. practice only to find Kyle Lowry stretching after a weight training session. He had been there since 6.
Six years later, and with Lowry out, VanVleet is ready to lead by example as a veteran on a very young Raptors team that host Washington in its first game of the season on Wednesday. It’s important, the 27-year-old point guard said, that young players learn to fit into the team’s culture quickly.
“You have to learn to be a professional,” VanVleet said after practice at the OVO Athletic Center on Tuesday. “We have a lot of young people in their 20s or 21s who don’t have a clue. He was quite mature at 20, but I don’t know if he was ready for this.
“So, learn what it takes to be a professional, how to stop drinking, sleep, eat something you might (don’t want). . . You eat well, you sleep, you stay the extra hour for treatment, you arrive the extra hour early to do work. There are many things that involve, there is not much room for maneuver, and I think young players have to learn that really quickly. “
VanVleet, who scored a career-high 19.6 points per night last season, said he can already see the example rub off on younger players, including 20-year-old rookie Scottie Barnes.
“If (Lowry) was here three hours before practice, I’d better beat him here, and that allowed me to develop my own routine,” VanVleet said. “Scottie (Barnes, a rookie) is watching Pascal (Siakam) and me in the gym three or four hours before training camp, now he’s trying to compete to beat us here every day, that’s how it works.”
The Raptors play their first regular-season game at Scotiabank Arena in 600 days, finally back after a season in which Tampa, Florida, is home. T-shirts, posters and social media hashtags announce their return with two simple words: “We are back.”
Goran Dragic will make his home debut as a Raptor, and the 13-year veteran who was acquired in the deal that sent Lowry to Miami said every opening night is special. Even more so since Toronto hasn’t hosted a season opener in two years.
“Definitely early in the game, a little nervous, a few butterflies, but as soon as the referee throws the ball, you’re good to go. But it is always exciting. It doesn’t matter how many years you are in the league. It’s always fun, ”he said. “The arena is probably going to be sold out and you guys didn’t play here last year so it’s going to be a good opening night. Hopefully we get a W. “
Toronto has been called this season’s mystery team because of so many new young faces. When asked how good he thinks they can be, Dragic said he was pleasantly surprised during the preseason.
“We looked very long,” he said, spreading his arms wide. He mentioned in particular six-foot-nine point guard Dalano Banton.
“It’s a young team with a lot of versatility, so I think that will create a lot of problems for the opponents,” he said. “It’s going to be difficult to beat us, especially at home.”
VanVleet said the rebuilt Raptors are well prepared for the season, having worked more in training camp, he said, than in any other season he’s played.
The six-foot-one guard was asked what it’s like to be on the court with four six-foot-eight players. Do you feel like you have to play bigger, especially on defense? He noted that he led the league last season in detours. He said he wasn’t going to list all the stats, then noted, laughing, that he also had 0.7 blocks per game.
“I already play big, so that’s not a problem for me,” he said. “I’m telling you, I don’t notice (the difference in height). I’m so crazy in my head, we are all the same height. Sometimes it hurts, but most of the time I don’t notice it.
“The only time I realize, this is a true story, is when I go home to Rockford (Ill.) For the summer and come back to the team and it’s always Pascal, like every time I look at him I say ‘Damn, it’s tall, he’s so tall, man. ‘ But when I’m here I don’t realize it because I’m only in the fight. “
The Raptors were expecting a full sale by the first game on Wednesday. They are in Boston for their first road game on Friday.
NOTES: The Raptors exercised the third-year team option on the contracts of forward Precious Achiuwa and point guard Malachi Flynn. Both players are now signed through the 2022-23 season. The six-foot-eight Achiuwa, acquired from the Heat along with Dragic, averaged 5.0 points and 3.4 rebounds last season. The six-foot-one Flynn was the Raptors’ 29th pick in the 2020 draft and averaged 7.5 points, 2.9 assists and 2.5 rebounds in his rookie season.
This Canadian Press report was first published on October 29, 2021.
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