Toronto Star

Ballroom basketball without the badminton


The Raptors are building a world-class practice facility from scratch in a hotel ballroom and that’s fine with coach Nick Nurse.

At least it means he won’t have to take down some badminton nets so his team can get its work in every day.

In his first coaching job in the basketball backwater of Derby, England, Nurse’s team could only practise two evenings a week, after the local badminton club ceded control of the court at 7 p.m. This new setup — in a Tampa hotel space normally reserved for such matters as wedding receptions and convention gatherings — will be a relative dream for Nurse and the Raptors.

They’ll have the run of the place and it will be their home, just one of the minor inconvenie­nces that come with packing up an NBA team lock, stock and barrel and transporti­ng it from Toronto to Florida.

It won’t be perfect — perfect would be living their lives in Toronto and practising at their OVO Training Centre — but that isn’t in the works in these pandemic times. No sense whining, Nurse said.

“They’re still kind of organizing a lot of our practice facilities and things like that, so I haven’t really got out to see much. But … when people are worried about that kind of stuff, or show some anxiety, I always say the Raptors always do things first class and we always do things well,” the coach said on a Zoom call with reporters on Wednesday.

“I would imagine they’re going to give us a good place to stay, a good place to practise, a good place to lift weights, a good place to meet, and all the things that we need to be successful. I think it’ll all just be just fine.” Just not normal.

“It’s going to be weird, but I mean, what isn’t weird in these times and days, especially after experienci­ng the bubble,” Raptor Norm Powell said on a later Zoom call. “So I mean, it’s always an adjustment period, but I think we’ll do just fine, especially with how the team operates.”

The next few weeks — especially after a week of training camp concludes at St. Leo University, about half an hour away, and Life In Tampa begins in earnest — will be a journey of adjustment for everyone connected with the franchise.

Finding places to live — Powell needs one where his dogs can join him — is one thing. Finding out where to go and what they can do is quite another. Nothing is normal.

“You’ve just got to be prepared for the unexpected,” Powell said. “And when it happens, try to just stay in the moment, stay to your bases and consider your base, and keep it rolling.

“Especially here, people keep asking me, ‘Where are you staying? What’s going on? What’s around you?’ And I have no idea. So trying to figure the whole city out — where to go, even what to do in terms of just being able to walk on the beach or whatever, where things are at — is going to be the biggest thing.”

The basketball stuff will come in due course. The Raptors can’t even have a full-squad practice before Sunday, limited to small group and individual workouts right now.

As for Nurse, whose peripateti­c coaching career has included any number of strange circumstan­ces as its wended its way from small-college U.S.A. to England, Belgium, the North American minor leagues and finally the NBA, he just rolls with the waves and deals with what that era’s reality is.

Like waiting for badminton practice to end before he could teach a Box-and-One defence.

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