McNeill: Raps build bonds by breaking bread

October 10, 2012, 2:25 PM

Having 18 professional basketball players compete for 15 roster spots is rarely the best way to go about building camaraderie.

Add eight new faces to the mix and it was clear that heading into training camp earlier this month that there wouldn’t be a lot of previously established bonds between teammates on or off the court.

Because of that, it was a wise move by the Raptors to have the players and coaching staff spend a week in Halifax bonding and growing closer as a team to kick off their pre-season. By having everyone out of their normal comfort zone, it allowed the team to grow closer on and off the court.

With so much roster turnover from the end of last season, head coach Dwane Casey was forced to start from scratch with his defensive and offensive schemes and the time away helped his players stay focused.

“Going away to Halifax was big. We are back at square one this week defensively; it’s not even including getting our offensive system in,” Casey explained. “We had to start from square one defensively because we had so many new faces in trying to pick up our terminology and our schemes. Being away was great because our guys had focus and a chance to bond together.”

That likely wouldn’t have happened if the team stayed in Toronto because all of the players who played here before would escape to their own places and the new guys would be out exploring the city.

By having training camp in Halifax it forced the players to eat meals together and spend time with one another.

“What happens is when new guys come into town they start looking for places to live and they are trying to search out the city,” Casey continued. “As soon as they leave practice they are all scattered out around the city. By having camp in Halifax they were sort of forced to be together and they were held captive. It was good to eat meals together and go to different functions together.”

One of the Raptors many new faces, Landry Fields, also raved about the experience and what it meant to a team looking to become a cohesive unit.

“I think it was really big because when you put a new group of guys together that don’t have the history or that camaraderie that a lot of older teams have from playing together for so long,” Fields said. “So for us to get away and bond is going to be crucial for us in the season going forward.”

When the team went to Halifax last week only a handful of players had spent time together, but now the entire team has broken bread together and sweated as a unit during grueling two-a-day practices together.

It’s amazing the difference a week can make as 18 relative strangers have started to make the transition to becoming teammates and friends.

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