TORONTO – There is still a long ways to go for a Raptors team that drew rave reviews following their first full day of training camp.
There is nearly a month left in camp, eight exhibition contests around the corner and 82 regular season games ahead of them. This was one day.
Still, after a 2012-13 season laden with disappointment, the team will happily take the small victories wherever and whenever they come. The end goal is far greater, but this is a start.
"Very high level," coach Dwane Casey said of his team's effort following the first of two practices Tuesday afternoon. "We had a lot of little mistakes but guys are playing hard, diving on the floor, knocking the crap out of each other and that's what we need.
"We'll clean up the little things."
Although the majority of Casey's team has been in Toronto for a few weeks now participating in individual and player-organized workouts, Tuesday marked the first day that coaches could facilitate an actual practice. Not wasting any time, they held two.
Despite the long day, the team got through it unscathed and Casey was impressed with the conditioning of his players, although he did note some expected fatigue throughout the afternoon.
As expected, there was an immediate emphasis placed on defence after the team regressed on that end of the floor a year ago.
"[Defence] was a big focus," said Rudy Gay, who is in camp with the Raptors for the first time after opening the previous seven seasons with Memphis. "It's just picking up your level. Defence is all about competitiveness and as long as we stay competitive and also stay true to our principles we'll be a good defence team."
Casey estimated that 90 percent of the day's contact drills were defensive in nature and anticipates that will mostly be the case for the remainder of this week and perhaps into next.
Not surprisingly, the tone was set by one of the newest Raptors: spark plug Tyler Hansbrough who comes to Toronto with a reputation for getting after it in games and in practice while also getting under the opponent's skin.
"Tyler Hansbrough, I call him Freddy Krueger," Casey said, comparing the forward to the fictional horror movie character. "That's what made him such a great monster, every once and a while you think you have him dead and here he comes back again, that's Tyler Hansbrough."
"He's added that to our team, so either you stay with it, with that effort, or you get your butt kicked and that's one thing that's really amped up the effort and the intensity in practice and we need that."
Passion, as Casey put it, is contagious and has spread around this organization quickly, seemingly from the top. The Raptors held a team meeting last night, prior to the start of training camp and the person leading the charge was the very man who put this group - or at least some of it - together.
"Masai gave a passionate speech last night about what he expects [and] the passion guys have to play with," Casey said. "Leaving all the complaining and all the problems, all the issues, check them at the door and then set the tone. He's empowered everybody to do their job."
"Our new GM is very passionate and we're taking his lead," point guard Kyle Lowry added. "It starts at the top and we all take his passion, his ferocity and take it on the court with us and to practice with us. The intensity that Masai's bringing to us is definitely a ramp up from anything I've ever seen."
The hope for Casey and this organization is that the passion that filled the Raptors' practice gym on day one will stick around for the remainder of camp and throughout the season. For now, the vibes are all positive but maintaining that togetherness through the inevitable adversity of a long NBA season will be the club's real challenge.
"The copouts are gone so now it's about playing [and] having fun," said Casey. "How you have fun is kicking people's butt and competing and I think that's what we're seeing.
"I hope that's what we're seeing."