COLUMN: Raptor pack gets injected with young blood
By Alex Chiang
The recent play of Toronto Raptors guard Damon Stoudamire and rookie forward Marcus Camby has worked the Toronto hoops scene into a frenzy so much so that Stoudamire has people saying he's mightier than "Mighty Mouse" and Camby has everyone calling him "Mister."
Last year's NBA rookie of the year, Stoudamire has had an equally impressive sophomore season hovering around the 20 points per-game mark. He is sixth in the league in assists, eighth in three-point shooting and fifth in minutes played per game.
However, Stoudamire was overused by former Raptor coach Brendan Malone and as a result missed several games in the later part of last season due to ankle tendinitis.
This year, Stoudamire still logs over 40 minutes a game, virtually the same amount as last year, and has managed to stay completely healthy. Evidently he has become accustomed to the gruelling physical demands of an 82-game NBA schedule.
But the most important change Stoudamire has made in his second professional season is that he now recognizes he must take a leadership role. On many occasions, he has single-handedly hoisted the team on his shoulders and carried them to victory.
His ability to read and break down the opponent's defence makes everyone on the team look better. As Toronto's go-to guy, he is entrusted to drive the lane with the ball in the dying moments of virtually every game. Thus far he has come through more times than not.
It seems like it was not so long ago that Toronto fans booed general manager Isiah Thomas for choosing Stoudamire over UCLA's Ed O'Bannon. Obviously Stoudamire was eager to prove them wrong and show Thomas had made the right choice. He's done more than enough in that department.
There were far fewer people on Thomas' case when he chose last year's Naismith college player of the year Marcus Camby. Camby had an injury-filled start to his professional career missing 17 games due to various wounds. Now he is meeting everyone's expectations.
He has already established himself as one of the NBA's premier shot-blockers, averaging just over two per game. Just ask Phoenix about Mr. Camby, who stoned the Suns' shooters nine times in a February meeting.
Camby went on a tear for the month of March averaging over 20 points per game. This is ironic considering the knock on him was that his offensive game lagged far behind his defensive one coming into the league.
Although his late push for this year's rookie-of-the-year honour may have come a little too late, Camby has arguably shown the most potential of all of the league's first-year players. As a point guard in high school before being converted into a centre at the University of Massachusetts, Camby has demonstrated excellent ball handling and passing abilities which he has taken to the professional level. Yet of his impressive array of skills, his hustle is what Toronto's future success will depend on.
It is a shared desire and work ethic that has led to a quick transition from the college scene to the NBA for these two young phenoms. Both Stoudamire and Camby are natural leaders and provide a solid foundation for fans to put their hopes on and while Camby is over a foot taller and 50 pounds heavier than Stoudamire, each man's heart is of the same determination that will someday win Toronto an NBA championship.