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Raptors get pep talk from Canadian MMA legend St-Pierre

Georges St-Pierre Georges St-Pierre - The Canadian Press

TORONTO — The Toronto Raptors want to make sure they fight until the end of the NBA season, so they brought in MMA great Georges St-Pierre to give them a pep talk.

St-Pierre spoke to the team for 30 minutes and then took questions before the Raptors practised on Wednesday. He was also courtside after practice at the OVO Athletic Centre, chatting with Toronto head coach Darko Rajakovic, all-star Scottie Barnes, and team staff.

"You've got to learn how to control yourself, stay in the right headspaces and then always be working on your body," said Barnes about what he learned from St-Pierre. "Be a killer when you go out on the floor.

"When he goes out there, he's gonna be a dog, be a killer when he goes out there to fight but then when it comes back to the real world, he knows how to keep his peace, keep at peace with himself."

St-Pierre, from Saint-Isidore, Que., was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame in 2020 and into Canada's Sports Hall of Fame in 2023. He is a two-time UFC champion and retired with a 28-2 professional record, notably avenging both of his losses to Matt Hughes and Matt Serra.

Barnes, a self-described MMA junky, said that he was inspired by St-Pierre's resilience, battling back from mental health and physical issues to put together a Hall of Fame career.

"I remember he won a championship, he lost (to Hughes), then he had to get a couple of fights to get it back," said Barnes. "You see him begging for another title fight, telling (the UFC) to give him another shot. He was on his knees begging.

"It just shows his passion. How he just wants to be great. It's very motivating."

It was the Raptors' first practice together after the all-star break, a pause in the grind of the regular season that Rajakovic said everyone needed. The first-year head coach said that staff and players alike were worn out after four major trades overhauled Toronto's roster.

"It was a training camp feel, for sure. We were able to go for over an hour in practice," he said. "We were able to install new things for the new guys. We tweaked a couple of things defensively that we wanted to work on.

"It was a great opportunity, great spirits. Everybody’s excited to be back in the gym."

Rajakovic said it was also important for him to recharge after his longtime friend and Golden State Warriors assistant coach Dejan Milojevic died suddenly of a heart attack on Jan. 17, the same day the Raptors traded all-star forward Pascal Siakam to the Indiana Pacers.

Immanuel Quickley, who was acquired in a trade with the New York Knicks on Dec. 30, said that the time apart will be good for team chemistry.

"A much-needed break, just to get a chance to get away from each other," said Quickley, who visited family before heading south to Miami to workout alone. "Putting some more work in and get better that way, but also good to get some respite and come back."

Barnes was the only one who didn't have a break as he had 16 points, eight rebounds and three assists in his first-ever all-star game on Sunday, the most a Raptors player has scored in their all-star debut.

"It's just a fun experience being around those guys. It’s an elite group," said Barnes, who helped the East set an all-star points record in a 211-186 victory over the West. "Primarily it was just me enjoying the weekend, having fun, having some little communication with other guys, but it was just fun and regular talk."

Toronto announced during practice that they had signed guard D.J. Carton, 23, to a 10-day contract. The six-foot-three Carton averaged 18.6 points, 5.7 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 35.4 minutes in 29 games with Iowa in the NBA G League this season.

The Raptors host the Brooklyn Nets (21-33) on Thursday at Scotiabank Arena.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 21, 2024.