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Special Report - Game Day as a "Raptor"

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What’s it like to live the life of a Raptor?

On March 9 I had a chance to experience as close to the real thing as possible. Every year MLSE runs a Fantasy Basketball Day for all of their executive suite holders. I was lucky enough to get chosen to represent my company.

The day started off around noon as I got down to the ACC and made my way to the Platinum Club. This is where I found out what team I’d be playing with for the day. I was then escorted to the Visitor's locker room. The Cavs had won the night before so I knew it wasn’t going to be trashed. I had heard that the Raps had one of the top five Visitor's locker rooms in, as Chuck likes to say, The Association, and the guy taking me there was talking about how plush it was. I didn’t really know what to expect but when I got there it definitely wasn’t what I thought it would be...

...because it reminded me of the locker rooms I used to use playing Bantam hockey back in the rinks of Nova Scotia! It was not much to look at at all as there was one small little TV in the corner and about 30 stalls around the outside of the room. The middle of the room was loaded up with Gatorade, water and fruit. Yes, nothing much to write home about but when I saw my name tag with a game jersey hanging up, I forgot all about the locker room conditions. It’s a pretty cool feeling to see your name on the back of an NBA jersey even if you know it’s only for a fantasy camp. I can only imagine what it feels like for the rookies the first time they entered the Raps locker room for a game and saw their jerseys hanging there.

Anyways, going into this day I really had no idea what type of skill level I’d be playing against. I had barely touched a ball since last summer when I tore up my ankle playing hoops so I was a little worried that I’d be out of my element and make an ass of myself on the ACC floor. But once I started meeting the guys on my team I realized that wasn’t going to be the case and I'd be my usual dominant self.

One thing I realized about the life of an NBA player is that when you’re on the team’s time, everything is planned down to the minute. Our schedule was set for us and we had to stick with it. First stop was getting our individual pics taken for our player cards. I got my pic taken pretty early cause I was eager to hit the court and didn’t want to wait for the other 20 odd guys to get out there.

The first thing that surprised me about the ACC court was the give. I’ve never played on a court that had so much give to it! The second thing was that half the balls we were given to use were flat and the other half-dozen were WNBA balls. We obviously were not getting to play with the normal game balls. Of course I didn’t want to miss my first shot on an NBA court so I went and hit a nice little layup and then went directly to the three-point line. Those extra two feet make a big difference, you really do have to use your legs a lot more then if you’re shooting a college three. So as I’m shooting around out come Darrick Martin and Jose Calderon...

Jose and Darrick informed us all that they were going to run us through a bunch of drills that they do in practice. (I guess once you get to a CB4 or Space Mountain level you don’t have to run these types of fantasy camps!) Joey G was chilling courtside watching us get going until D-Mart started yelling out that he needed a Rook. (I guess he forgot that Jose is a rook as well.) Anyways, they start showing us the first drill that we’re gonna do; basically it was like a three man weave except the middle guy hits a layup while the two on the wings shoot jump shots and the guy who took the layup goes back down the court with the two guys who passed the balls to the wing. As an aside, this was when I really realized that I wasn’t going to be looking like a fool against the other people playing...I'd say during the course of the whole drill there were probably 3 jump shots that went down...yikes.

We were then divided into our two teams with D-Mart taking the Whites jerseys and Jose and Joey taking the Reds. Once divided up, the three Raptor "coaches" led us through some defensive drills. The first one was basically just to teach people how to play the passing lanes. The only problem was that a few of the guys on our team weren’t listening and kept on moving on offence even after Joey told us about 10 times not to move!

The following drill was one where someone would drive baseline so that the other defender had to come over to help and cut off the baseline. At one point as was showing us what to do on D, I decided I'd make a nice little cut from the weak side to the middle of the lane looking for a nice pass so I could throw down my patented baby hook. Joey asked me what I thought I was doing and that if I cut there he'd just steal the rock. Now even though he's a professional basketball player I knew I had to talk some trash to the big man. I might have the nick name Big Chill and be a little over my optimum playing weight but I'm deceptively quick and I had no problems telling him that. He didn't know what was going on as I was talking a little smack telling him he had no chance to stop me.

Next drill - setting screens for the man on the wing. The wing would take a couple of steps baseline, the man at the top of the key would come down and set a screen and the guy on the wing instead of going baseline would pop out to the foul line extended for an open jumper.

We didn't do so well in the next two jump shooting drills, lots of missed shots, so I'll cut to the final drill of the day. This was a three on two drill with a trailer on defence to make it three-on-three. It was a pretty fun fast break drill and Jose, Joey and D-Mart seemed to really enjoy themselves. Every time someone would actually make a shot they’d get all excited, but I think the thing Jose liked the most was having a whistle in his mouth, he was blowing it all afternoon, making all sorts of calls. Jose was loving my little up and under move along the baseline and gave me my props on the way back to the side. I had to explain to Joey that that was my deceptive quickness showing up again and he was still afraid to take me one on one, something about getting made a fool of by a 6'1 white guy who hadn't played organized ball since high school. They decided to make the team that lost this drill run sprints so the Red team was able to sit back and cheer on the Whites as they did their sprints up and down.

After practice it was time for team pictures at centre court and then we had a bit of time before lunch so most of us decided to stay out there and shoot around. There aren’t that many times you get to play ball on the Air Canada Centre court so I for one was going to take advantage of every minute of it.

We then had to get ready for lunch. Nothing like taking a shower when the shower heads are 10 feet high...I turned the shower on, looked up, and wondered if the water was EVER going to come down from above me! Basically everything in NBA locker rooms is a little bit bigger then normal. After showering up we hit the Platinum Club to get a little pre-game meal. Who knew though that having some fried chicken constituted a good pre-game meal? If I had known that I woulda been going to Popeye's chicken and biscuits before every game I ever played! Pretty good eats though.

Next stop for us was the Raps training facility and a meeting with their head strength and conditioning coach. Even though I’d been on the second level of the ACC many times, (well before my boy Howland started getting me hooked up with corporate seats) I had no idea that that was where the practice court was. I had always assumed that it was down by their locker room. We got in there and met with the coach and I for one was surprised at how young and how small he was. He put us through a bunch of exercises that he makes the players do and let me tell you they weren’t easy. All of us who volunteered to do them were feeling it. He talked a lot about how it’s a battle to get some guys into the gym and how others he has to try and keep away. It also sounds like he’s doing a bunch of work with Hoffa, Bonner and Sow to try and work on their foot speed...I'm not sure it's working in Hoffa's case. After spending about 45 minutes with the strength coach we went and had a walk through the Raps dressing room. I won't go into much detail about what I saw as it was all their private stuff but let me tell you, that locker room wasn't anything like what I used to have back in Bantam hockey or high school ball. After the walk through the locker room it was time to go get ready for our game!

This was great; MLSE really did a great job of the game. They had the whole in-game experience going on. 4 Korners Sound Krew, the Raptor, the Dance Pak and Howie on the mic. There were even about 100 fans there enjoying popcorn and dogs. After the pre-game shoot around both teams had to line up for the national anthem and then meet our coaches. The Red Team had Jim Todd coaching and the White had Gene Keady. After meeting the coaches they asked us what we had learnt in practice and found it pretty amusing that we went over defensive plays. We were then all ushered out the tunnel and the lights went off for the intros. We were all announced like they would do for a normal game but used our company name instead of college. Although it was a completely meaningless game everybody was loving it and getting all hyped up. We were all clowning around loving the experience. There was even some joking around about chest bumps as we ran out instead of high fives. When they announce your name you have to run out with the spotlight on you and the camera in your face putting it up on the Jumbotron. They had the lights off, Howie was doing his welcome basketball fans, they had the beats bumping - pretty cool experience. So as I was running out the Raptor got down in a three point stance so I decided I'd drop some bows on his head. Like Joey he thought he could take me - when will these clowns learn?? Then, I did the line of teamates with the low fives until I got to one of the other big men and decided to give him a solid chest bump. Almost sent the kid down on his ass, I guess he wasn't serious before when he was talking about the bumps. Oh well.

The game itself was pretty weak. Both teams shot under 40 per cent and if it wasn’t for about two players per team it would’ve been down in the teens. We did learn a couple of the Raps plays though, the "Flop" and the "1-4." The "Flop" is basically when they line up the "2 and 4" positions on the right side of the key and the "3 and 5" on the left and then the "4 and 5" will set screens for the other two guys. The "1-4" is basically the same thing but the guys line-up across the foul line extended instead of up and down the key. The other thing that we learned is that the 2-guard will or should always run down the right side of the floor on breaks with the 3 going down the left. Too bad we didn't use the plays that well in the games but we did manage to get a win by one point.

After the game I chatted with the RaptorsHQ team, gave them a rough report and hit the showers only to find some nice cold wobbly pops waiting for us in the locker room...solid.

Since it was supposed to be a day in the life of a Raptor I was waiting for the limo to take us to the VIP room at a club and have chicks all over us, but then I realized that wouldn’t be much different then a normal weekend out for me and the HQ boys so I was content to roll home with my memories and uniform.

The Raps HQ boys asked me what the highlight of the day was and I can't pinpoint one thing. It was pretty sweet to score the first four points of the game and have Howie yell your name out and the opening of the game was awesome too. Running through the drills with the three Raptors and talking some trash, can't really beat that either. And having Jim Todd tell you he needs you out on the floor, well, considering that Hoffa's probably never heard that in his whole career, I'd have to say that that might top it all ha ha. Really the whole thing was great.

Here’s to hoping I get chosen to represent my company again next year.

Big Chips