Rudy Gay had no idea how bad his vision was until he went to renew his drivers license last year and nearly failed the test.
“They said ‘Do you wear glasses?’ I said no. They said, ‘Well you need to wear glasses,“’ Gay recounted, with a laugh.
He wasn’t laughing at the time. For a guy who makes his living tossing a ball through a hoop from a distance, the news was rather disconcerting.
So after a brief and unsuccessful experiment with corrective goggles, the Toronto Raptors small forward underwent surgery to correct his vision during an off-season that was otherwise devoted to improving his shooting, and beefing up his body.
One day into training camp, and Gay said he’s feeling like a much-improved player than the one who led the Raptors in scoring last season but also had career lows in both field goal and three-point percentage.
He joked that any improvement in his game this season will be credited solely to his better vision.
“Honestly, I was talking to my trainer, and he said if you come out and have a great season it’s going to be because of your eye, not because of the work you put in,” Gay said.
The 27-year-old Gay wouldn’t wear contact lenses, as he had an aversion to touching his eyes. The Raptors medical staff provided him with prescription goggles but he wasn’t keen on those either. So he underwent surgery early in the summer, which he said wasn’t fun.
“Recovery was horrible, it was terrible,” Gay said. “Probably (lasted) about two weeks. First week I couldn’t see, second week I could. And then months and months of putting eye drops in.
“But it was one of those things that needed to happen if I wanted to continue my career.”
Gay averaged 19.5 points to top Toronto in scoring after he was acquired from the Memphis Grizzlies in a mid-season trade. The Raptors went 16-30 prior to the trade, and finished 18-18 with Gay on the roster.
Still, he was far from his best, shooting a career-low 40.8 per cent — down from his career high of 47.1 per cent two seasons earlier — and 31 per cent from three-point range.
So he committed every day of the off-season, he said, to being a better shooter.
“I started from the basics. . . form, worked on my form. From there just rhythm, shooting, shooting, shooting, becoming comfortable with it.
“I made about 300 shots a day, sometimes more, on a light day probably 300.”
Gay has been criticized for taking low-percentage shots — namely long two-pointers. But at the urging of Raptors coach Dwane Casey, he sounds like he’s starting to see the light when it comes to shot selection.
Casey said he’s been drilling Gay and Toronto’s other sharpshooter DeMar DeRozan about higher percentage shots.
“Corner threes, paint, get to the rim, get to the free throw line, and subsequently shooting percentage is going to go up,” Casey said.
Gay spent a lot of summer working on his three-point shooting, and pointed out that at the end of Monday morning’s practice, the entire team was doing a three-point drills.
“I got it from the coaches that we’re going to be a team that’s going to get a lot of threes up, and obviously if it comes from the top, you’ve got to practise it,” he said.
Gay also said he put on 20 pounds of muscle working with his trainer Dustin Gray back home in Baltimore.
“Hopefully you can see it,” Gay said laughing, puffing out his chest ever so slightly. “Maybe I should do some push-ups or something.
“My trainer basically lived with me.”
The weight gain, said Casey, was by design, and with the intention of using Gay at power forward rather than small forward.
“We talked about it, because when you look at the Eastern Conference, you’ve got Carmelo, LeBron, big threes playing fours, and he wants to do that and it fits us really well too, him going to the four,” Casey said. “What he doesn’t want to do is gain a lot of unneeded weight, just some good solid (muscle), which he’s done. He’s really solid in his upper body. You can see it, it looks good. If it helps him psychologically, making contact, getting to the rim, it’s great.
“It’s going to help him be in the paint a little bit more. When you get caught outside in that non-paint area, to drop that shoulder, use your body to get into the paint to create a foul, contact, and get to the free-throw line.”
Casey calls Gay one of the top offensive players in the league, and said the main thing missing that could make him an all-star is winning.
“Winning gets you in that conversation of being one of the top players in this league,” Casey said. “The league rewards winners.”
Granted training camp is only a day old, but Gay has seemed more at ease, cracking jokes with reporters. When someone pointed out to Casey that Gay seems happier than he did last season, the coach said everyone was.
“I think there’s a different vibe,” Casey said.
The coach said it starts with Masai Ujiri, the Raptors’ new president and general manager.
“Masai gave them an impassioned speech (Monday) night about what he expects from them, the passion guys have to play with, leaving all the problems all the issues, check them at the door. It sets a tone, and that’s been huge,” Casey said. “He’s empowered everybody to do their job. The cop-outs are gone, now it’s about playing and having fun, and the way you have fun is by kicking people’s butts and competing.”
The Raptors practise at the Air Canada Centre until Thursday and then training camp moves to Halifax for two days. They open the pre-season Monday at Boston, and are back home to host the Minnesota Timberwolves next Wednesday.