The Toronto Raptors are finally back home. After a season and a half spent thousands of kilometers away from their home arena, Canada’s only NBA Franchise will play their first game at Scotiabank Arena since February 28, 2020, on Oct. 4 when they host the Philadelphia 76ers in a pre-season game.
Because of the ongoing global pandemic, they finished out the 2019-20 season in the “bubble” in Orlando, Fla., and called the last season “home” at Amalie Arena in Tampa.
It was one of the worst seasons the team had in close to a decade, finishing 12th in the Eastern Conference with a 27-45 record and missing the playoffs for the first time in eight years.
With the new season on the horizon, the team is looking forward to getting back into a routine at home and being surrounded by their fans.
Canada’s Chris Boucher saw an increase in playing time, going from an average of 13.2 minutes in the 2019-20 campaign to 24.2 last season and averaged 13.6 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks per game.
We caught up with Boucher ahead of Raptors training camp opening up and the start of the pre-season to talk about how he has improved his game since the end of the season, how he thinks being in Toronto again will impact his team, and being able to see fans again.
(Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
Your first pre-season game is less than two weeks away, how do you feel being back in Toronto and how do you think being back here will impact the team's morale and performance?
Oh, it feels good! Obviously, we’re back to where we are supposed to be. We have our fans and get to get back into a little routine by being in Toronto.
As much as everyone says that it’s different being in Toronto, it really is different. You’re playing for a country once again – you can never stop saying that. We are definitely happy to be here it’s a new team and new era. A lot of unproven things to be done, but I think we will have a great year and we have a great coaching staff.
What part of your game did you work on during the summer?
Generally, everything to be honest with you.
After the season we had last year I think there is a lot of stuff that I could've done better. I want to be able to play more, improve my basketball IQ, shoot consistently and try to create for others on the floor too because at the end of the day it’s a team sport, so we need everybody on the team to provide and that’s something I realized last year.
You recently surprised a community basketball group at a Foot Locker in downtown Toronto, what was it like for you to be able to interact with fans again and see their reactions in person?
It feels good to be back. You could tell that Canada missed sports from being in lockdown from the pandemic. You can see that they’re not just happy to see the Raptors but the kids are just happy to be in the gym and playing with different friends.
I used to be one of those kids and I wish I would have had the opportunity of getting shoes or just to try and get the chance to talk to somebody in the NBA to tell me things that I could do better to get to where they are.
When you have these young Raptors fans all over your social media and having the opportunity to talk to you in person, what are they asking you one-on-one?
It’s usually ‘how did I get to the NBA?’ and what they ask me and how much work you need to put in to get there.
Usually, they want advice to see what they could do now to get better. Those are usually the questions the younger fans ask me, they ask me to share my story.
You talk about sharing your story and you were finally able to host basketball camps in parts of Canada this summer getting one-on-one time with some of your younger fans and sharing your journey. What was that experience for you to get that time with your Canadian fans and see your camp evolve?
It was great to be able to do it in person. it was really a good experience for me just because I wanted to do it the year before and I couldn’t.
We were able to do more than two or three camps with kids this summer which is something that I’m trying to do. Watching their passion and love for the game was great to see in person. I’d love to do one in St. Lucia in the future.
I’m curious when you have a young fan say something funny to you or you see something you want to share, who is the person on the Raptors you text first?
OG. OG is my guy. It’s our third year now and when I did my rehab when I tore my ACL in the draft combine with him and then I came to the Raptors, so OG. I am really close to him.
Another Canadian has committed to your alma mater, the Oregon Ducks. Toronto’s Ethan Buttle recently committed to playing for the Ducks. How much, if at all, are you paying attention to what your college team is doing?
All the time! The Ducks are my team and I look at what they are doing, they are my team.
Actually, my coaches message me a lot to let me know what the team is up to. I hope they have a great year.