TORONTO - Not surprisingly, Terrence Ross' rookie year was filled with the highs and lows you would expect from a 21-year-old.
At times he dazzled, usually with his undeniable athleticism - winning the slam dunk contest at All-Star weekend - but just as often, if not more often, he would come back down to earth with the inconsistency and mental lapses associated with most first-year players.
The Raptors' eighth overall pick in 2012 averaged 6.4 points and 2.0 rebounds in 73 games but shot just 41 per cent from the field and saw his role minimized following the midseason trade for Rudy Gay.
To his own admission, the guard was not physically or mentally prepared for the grind of an NBA season; that realization hitting him immediately in training camp a year ago.
"I didn't know what to expect," he said of last year's camp. "I didn't know how hard it would be, I didn't know how it would wear on your body. I think I was just kind of warn down from the whole draft process so I think that kind of took effect but this year I took time off, relaxed and came back prepared and ready to play."
Now a 22-year-old sophomore, Ross knows what to expect three days into his second camp as a professional.
"I feel like it's easier now," he admitted Thursday after practice. "I haven't been getting sore, I feel fresh, I'm always loose, always ready to go [and] I'm in great shape so I just feel good to go."
His coaches have noticed the change but are still mindful of the challenge that faces Ross going into his second year; a challenge that will determine if he's ready to take his game to the next level.
"Defensively he was competing [and] offensively he was knocking down shots," Dwane Casey said of Ross' stand out practice from Wednesday. "So his thing is being consistent, bringing the consistency to his game. That's his next step because last year was a typical rookie year, up and down."
"[He] had a great start then tailed off, then bounced back again," Casey continued. "So his thing is bringing it every day and every time he steps on the floor."
"But he's a great kid, he's giving everything he has, it's just [the] consistency."
After three days back at the Air Canada Centre, Casey continues to rave about his team's effort level and competitive spirit early in camp. Although the Raptors' third-year head coach spotted some tired legs in Thursday morning's practice - following two long days and heavy conditioning drills Wednesday evening - he has been impressed with the focus of his players.
For many of them, their roles - and in some cases their jobs - are at stake.
Although Casey has mixed up units over the first few days, the incumbent starting five of Gay, Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Amir Johnson and Jonas Valanciunas is fully expected to reclaim their spot above the team's depth chart.
Of the 12 other players in camp, only four are holdovers from last season and with an infusion of added depth comes an open competition for second-unit minutes.
"It's open," Casey stated. "We're looking for those spots. We have a lot of people who can step in and take that opportunity. There are going to be minutes there, [the starters] can't play 48 [minutes]."
The Raptors ranked eighth in bench scoring for the first half of last season, getting 37.5 points per game from their reserves but dropped to 25th (27.3 points per) after the acquisition of Gay, as the starters were asked to eat up more minutes.
"We're looking for that second unit and that was our nemesis [last year]," said Casey. "So whoever that second group is has to create an identity to come in and score and defend, either hold serve or increase the score, you can't go the other way."
Veteran D.J. Augustin is battling rookie Dwight Buycks for the backup point guard job behind Lowry - although Augustin should have a leg up going into the season based on experience - while Ross, Landry Fields and new comers Steve Novak and Austin Daye should push for minutes behind DeRozan and Gay on the wing. Up front, Tyler Hansbrough - who has been a standout early in camp - should be the first big off the bench while Quincy Acy and Aaron Gray return but may only factor in should injuries or foul trouble occur, or if Casey chooses to stay with a big lineup.
The Raptors have one final roster spot available and three camp invitees - forward Chris Wright, guards Julyan Stone and Carlos Morais - vying for it. It's still too early to say whether one has stood out above the rest, per Casey, but the performance of those three players - all on non-guaranteed deals - should determine whether the team chooses to fill that 15th spot.
Off To Halifax
The team will continue training camp on the east coast as they return to Halifax for two practices on Friday and an intrasquad game Saturday.
Unlike last fall, when they held five days of camp in Halifax, the team won't have time for much sightseeing this time around. Aside from a players-only dinner planned for Thursday evening it will be strictly business before they head to Boston for their first of eight preseason games Monday.