By Kirsten Parucha
Christmas came early for Raptors fans when the city’s NBA team held an exclusive open practice in Scarborough Dec. 16.
The team of ballers, accompanied by their mascot and cheerleaders, entertained a group of 300 guests for a night of interaction, integration and introduction.
The level of excitement inside the Variety Village was tangible as fans of all ages had the chance to gain one-on-one time with their favourite players who posed for pictures, signed autographs and played a little ball with ardent fans.
Andrea Bargnani (top, left), James Johnson (top, centre) and Jamaal Magloire pose with fan and members of the Raptors Dance Pak.
The event also gave guests the opportunity to be introduced to new head coach, Dwane Casey, as well as the newcomers to the team, such as forward Rasual Butler and guard Anthony Carter.
But the most anticipated introduction of all was of hometown hero, Jamaal Magloire.
A roar of applause and a standing ovation greeted the Scarborough native as he ran onto the court and addressed the fans.
“This season we’re going to pack the energy and enthusiasm of 82 games into 66,” said the 11-season veteran. “In order to do that we need your support. It’s going to be a great season and we thank you all for sticking by us and being patient with the lock out. We love you guys.”
Following the presentation of each teammate was a show-and-tell of what goes down during a regular practice for the dinos. Team trainers and assistants demonstrated the drills and exercises the team does together to warm-up and prepare for games.
To end off the night, the boys played a pick-up game, showing the crowd a preview of what’s to come for the season.
Linas Kleiza (left) and Jose Calderon (right) share a laugh with fans.
Since the five-month long lockout cancelled 16 regular season games, the 2011-2012 NBA season will consist of only 66 regular season games. Pre-season for the Raptors began Dec. 18 at the Air Canada Centre, where they’ll be facing off against the Boston Celtics. The regular season tips off on Boxing Day against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Kirsten Parucha is a Toronto Star intern. She works in the radio room.