Toronto Raptors Set Up Practice In Tampa Hotel Ballroom

At 53, Nick Nurse has been through a lot in his long, winding journey to become a reigning NBA Coach of the Year and an NBA champion with the Toronto Raptors.

So, it would be wrong to say nothing prepared him for this — having to hold practices in the ballroom of a Tampa hotel.

But this is 2020, and with a pandemic still raging throughout North America, the Raptors are trying to swallow hard and put up with having to start the season away from Toronto because of Canadian government travel restrictions.

On a Zoom call Wednesday, Nurse was asked if he has been through anything that could compare to now. And it didn’t take him long to draw a comparison.

Some 30 years ago, after graduating from Northern Iowa with a degree in accounting, Nurse found himself in England as a player-coach for the Derby Rams. It was his first job.

The club could only afford to rent a practice hall for two days a week. That was Tuesday and Friday, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

But the Rams couldn’t get on the floor until exactly 7 p.m. because badminton nights ran right up to 7 p.m. Then the badminton nets came down, and the basketball team finally could get in their workout.

But basketball is basketball. You need a floor and a couple of nets. It’s not ideal, but it wasn’t ideal setting up shop the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista for the 2019-20 NBA playoffs either.

“But you get there and you realize it’s good enough,” Nurse said. The Raptors have their first scheduled practice in Tampa on Dec. 6, with the preseason set to begin Dec. 11. The first half of the NBA season tips off Dec. 22.

The Raptors will hold training camp through Dec. 11 at Saint Leo University, about a half-hour drive north of where the Raptors will be playing their home games at Amalie Arena. The Raptors have just one preseason game on Dec. 18 against Miami and their schedule to start the regular season should be announced in the coming days.

With any luck, the Raptors may be able to return home for the second half of the schedule should Covid-19 cases get under control, perhaps when vaccines are widely distributed to the public.

“I’m not shy about telling you guys how I love being in Toronto,” the Raptors coach said. “It’s our city, our team, our organization, so there’s a lot of unsettling feelings about having to leave, to be honest. It’s not easy to pick up and leave that behind. I’d rather be in Toronto, but I’m not.”

Nurse has a folksy charm and rarely looks rattled. He didn’t get this far by getting rattled.

Putting a positive spin on the situation, Nurse added that he’s not going to make any excuses. He’s going to get to work and make the best of a bad situation.

The strangeness of the Toronto Raptors world obviously is trickling down to the players too. Guard Norman Powell was asked about the makeshift practice facility being set up in a Tampa hotel ballroom.

“It’s going to be weird,” Powell said, “but what isn’t weird these days?”

It’s also going to be strange not seeing Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka on the floor. They were key pieces of the 2019 championship run. But that’s business. Gasol is now with the L.A. Lakers and Ibaka has joined the L.A. Clippers as free agents.

The core of the Raptors is still impressive and solid with Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Powell, Pascal Siakam and OG Anunoby. But there are plenty of new pieces, including centers Aron Baynes and Alex Len, as well as a pair of draft picks in guards Malachi Flynn and Jalen Harris.

Nurse knows what he has in his core group. He needs to quickly find out what else he’s got.

“I’m always concerned with anybody new to the organization to get them up to speed defensively,” Nurse said. “Getting guys up to speed with the nuances of the coverages and the terminology.”

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