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Toronto Raptors welcome Head Coach Darko Rajakovic

The franchise rolled out the red carpet to introduce the first time head coach to Toronto.

The Toronto Raptors introduce new head coach Darko Rajakovic in Maple Leaf Square Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images

On Tuesday afternoon, in Maple Leaf Square, in front of media, fans and even a few players, the Toronto Raptors officially introduced and welcomed Darko Rajakovic (rye-ahk-oe-vich) as the franchise’s next head coach. Rajakovic is the 10th head coach in Toronto Raptors history.

The event was a celebratory affair, with balloons, music, and was held outdoors — risky in Toronto, but it turned out okay. The man of the hour, Coach Rajakovic, sat up on stage with Raptors President Masai Ujiri and answered questions from the media, gave remarks, and expressed his gratitude for the opportunity.

There is a lot of excitement surrounding Rajakovic’s hire. The general vibe around the press conference today was fresh starts and positive change. Masai himself probably said the phrase “change is good” at least five times. Coach himself was personable, gave great and detailed answers, and seemed absolutely thrilled to be there. He said himself that he “could not have dreamed of a better situation or better city to be in to lead a team.”

If you’re worried about his chops as a first time head coach... don’t be. He’s been coaching basketball since he was 16 years old (over 27 years), and literally went to basketball school. BASKETBALL SCHOOL. He has a basketball coaching degree from Belgrade Basketball Academy, and a degree in sports management from Alfa BK University in Belgrade. He expressed a commitment to continuing to learn, stating “learning in this profession never stops.”

His coaching experience ranges from youth Serbian basketball, to national Serbian team competition, to the NBA G League as a head coach from the Tulsa 66ers, to three separate NBA assistant coaching gigs — Oklahoma City Thunder, Phoenix Suns, and most recently, the Memphis Grizzlies.

The guy eat, sleeps, and breathes basketball. Even just a few questions from the media about defensive schemes and you can tell Rajakovic’s basketball IQ is extremely high. He has a reputation for developing playmakers, and even offered to go over x’s and o’s with Raptors media members. He mentioned wanting to develop the players and enjoys when he can SEE improvement day by day.

He also mentioned the importance of seeing players as human, not just athletes, a point that seems extremely important in the current landscape of trying to prioritize player mental health. He emphasized wanting to SHOW UP for this players, and continue to better himself so that he can be better for his team.

On top of that, he just seemed HAPPY to be here. Toronto loves a guy that loves Toronto, and that’s Rajakovic. He expressed the utmost respect and admiration for the Raptors franchise, for Masai and Bobby and the rest of the organization, and for the city. He expressed his excitement of leading the only NBA team outside of the United States, and how much he loves that basketball has become such an international game.

For the Raptors, there was mutual excitement and admiration for their coaching choice.

“We’re entering a new era – one where we are embracing new ideas, a new attitude, and now a new head coach – but our goals remain the same. A championship. Winning,” Raptors Vice-Chairman and President Masai Ujiri said. “Darko shares those goals, and our belief in culture, professionalism, and hard work. His commitment to both learning and teaching our game is elite, and we are all very excited to welcome him to the Raptors family.”

As was mentioned at the press conference, the Raptors are entering a new era. To match a youthful, growing team comes in a youthful, excited head coach. If you went into today wondering about the Toronto Raptors choice of head coach, hopefully you come out of it with a little more optimism for the future of the franchise. Darko Rajakovic seems like the right guy to raise the morale, and turn the tides of a team has not looked like itself in the previous few seasons.

Like all great afternoons, Darko Rajakovic’s introductory press conference ended with free ice cream for all! Let that set the tone as we head into a new season of Raptors basketball with our new head coach.

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