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Raptors' Bargnani on the rebound Add to ...

No one is suggesting an unheralded Toronto-area basketball trainer is the reason behind the recent resurgence of Andrea Bargnani.

Just the same, Kyle Julius finds it gratifying the Toronto Raptors veteran is being touted as a potential all-star, after he worked with the seven-foot power forward for a three-week stretch last November prior to the NBA season.

“I didn’t teach him anything new,” the Guelph, Ont., resident said in a recent interview. “My goal was just to get his timing and touch and his conditioning up. And I think I helped him with his ball-handling and touch around the rim. And I’m seeing a lot of that in the games.”

It was certainly evident last Tuesday, in Phoenix, where Bargnani, in his return after a six-game absence for a strained calf muscle, muscled his way to 38 points. His efforts helped lift the Raptors to a 99-96 victory over the Suns, snapping an eight-game losing string in the process. It was Toronto’s first win in Arizona in eight years.

The Raptors, 5-13, continued their road trip Wednesday night, in Utah, with a game against the Jazz.

The Suns game was yet another an impressive outing this year for the 26-year-old Italian, who was the first player chosen in the 2006 NBA draft.

Bargnani is playing with uncommon belligerence at both ends of the court and, heading into Wednesday, was sixth overall in the NBA in scoring, averaging 23.4 points and 6.5 rebounds per game.

As far as head coach Dwane Casey is concerned, Bargnani is playing like an all-star.

“He’s matured, he knows this is his team,” Casey said recently, when asked to explain Bargnani’s about-face. “You’ve watched a guy grow up from a young player to a man, and I think his confidence and his game is going to go higher and higher.”

The unlikely pairing of Bargnani and Julius, who works full-time for a Toronto-based real-estate developer, had its beginnings in early November of 2011, when the NBA lockout was still in affect.

Looking to get a bit of a head start, Bargnani’s agent, Leon Rose, contacted Julius to see if he would be interested in working out his client while he was in Toronto.

Rose had heard of Julius, a former U.S. National Collegiate Athletic Association Division 1 player at Furman University, through *A* Game Hoops, a modest side business Julius operates to train blue-chip basketball prospects in the Greater Toronto Area. (Stu Julius, Kyle’s father and a former long-time Canadian university women’s coach at Lakehead and Wilfrid Laurier, assists with the business.)

“I think my résumé was good enough for Andrea to say, ‘Okay, let’s try it out,’ ” said Julius, 32. “I don’t think it was as big a shot in the dark as it kind of sounds.

“I’ve trained a lot of pros before, a lot of European pros. I played overseas for three years and was on the Canadian national team. I think he was pretty willing to train with me.”

Julius said Bargnani arrived at the Downsview gymnasium at the appointed time and for the next three weeks, he put him through his paces.

“He’s a serious guy,” Julius said. “He’s quiet. He definitely has a high level of confidence. Some might even mistake it for arrogance.”

To prepare for Bargnani, Julius said he poured over game tape from last season featuring another seven-footer, Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks.

Casey was an assistant with Dallas before he accepted the head coaching job with the Raptors, and Julius said he wanted to get some idea how Casey might want to utilize Bargnani.

With Bargnani, Julius said he focused on ball-handling skills.

“We did a lot of drills with a 10-pound heavy ball around the basket,” he said. “It forces you to focus on your finish and be aggressive.”

He also had Bargnani skipping a lot of rope to improve his footwork.

“One of the workouts I did with him, which he really liked, was dribbling a soccer ball with his feet around pylons while dribbling a basketball,” Julius said. “He was incredibly talented at everything I threw at him.”

Julius said he sent Bargnani an e-mail earlier this season, complimenting on his play.

So far, Bargnani hasn’t responded. But that’s okay.

As long as he distributes some of his business cards throughout the Raptors locker room, Julius will be happy.

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