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Newly acquired Toronto Raptors forward Reggie Evans smiles as he talks with the media in Toronto on Tuesday, June 16, 2009. (NATHAN DENETTE)
Newly acquired Toronto Raptors forward Reggie Evans smiles as he talks with the media in Toronto on Tuesday, June 16, 2009. (NATHAN DENETTE)

Evans already making his presence felt Add to ...

Andrea Bargnani had never heard of the play, but when he learned about what his new teammate Reggie Evans once did to Los Angeles Clippers centre Chris Kaman he laughed - if a little uncomfortably.

"I don't think he's going to do that here," Bargnani said. "That's a game move, not practice."

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The thing with Evans is, you just never know.

Playing for the Denver Nuggets, he was fined $10,000 for grabbing Kaman's privates and twisting while battling for position during an NBA playoff game in 2006, but he was hardly apologetic.

And while training camp is only one day old, Evans has already made his presence felt.

"He's one of the toughest opponents to play against, and it's good," said veteran centre Rasho Nesterovic, who has returned to the Raptors after spending last season in Indiana. "Sometimes you get relaxed, a little sleepy and he wakes up everybody. Playing against him is really tough, you have to pay attention all the time."

Making your teammates better is one of basketball's highest compliments, usually reserved for playmaking point guards or gaudy scorers who are clever enough to flip the ball out of double-teams when the time comes.

Evans is neither of those things. His career averages of 4.6 points and 0.6 assists are proof. As one of the NBA's most dogged offensive rebounders - he's tracked down an average of 4.5 misses per 36 minutes for his career - he's sure to have a key role in what was previously a weak rebounding lineup.

But for all the changes the Toronto Raptors have made in the off-season, the addition of the 6-foot-8, 245-pound chainsaw has paid the earliest dividends, sticking out for all the right reasons on a team built around finesse and skill.

He had his first impact before training camp even started in an informal scrimmage last week at the Air Canada Centre when he gave Bargnani a dose of mid-season nasty. Bargnani took note and came back a day later with a sense of purpose to the delight of those who watched.

"They went at it pretty hard," said Raptors president Bryan Colangelo, who acquired Evans from the Philadelphia 76ers for Jason Kapono in June. "The first day . . . by the end of it [Bargnani]was like a punch-drunk prize fighter. He looked like he was exhausted. It was fighting on the glass; it was trying to exert more energy on the offensive end because he had someone defending him - whether it was at the three-point line or inside - with physical force.

"I saw him come back the next day with a little different approach and he was more prepared for it. I said wow, if that's any indication of how Reggie is going to make others on the floor better, it happened in 24 hours."

Turning Bargnani into a consistent NBA player - as comfortable with the dirtier aspects of the job as he is with playing on the perimeter - has been a three-year project for the Raptors. Now there's someone on his own team forcing him to do it every day in practice.

"When you play against [skill]players you always want to be aggressive . . . you want to bring that toughness and make it uncomfortable for them," said Evans, who made the NBA as an undrafted free agent in 2002 with the Seattle Supersonics. "As a defender, you have to do things that take them out of their comfort zone. If that means denying him the ball or being aggressive, bumping him before the gets the ball, that's what you've got to do; pick your poison."

For his part, Bargnani said any claims that clashing with Evans served as a jump start to his own practice intensity are overstated - "I didn't get frustrated, I didn't say one word, I just played" - but he allowed that going against a dogged defender and rebounder of his ilk can only help.

"I'm happy Reggie's here. I think he's going to make me better," said Bargnani, who flourished when he became the team's regular starting centre in the second half of last season. "He's a good rebounder. He can get me used to boxing out my man every time. He always goes to rebound every time so you have to box out, you have to stay focused."

Evans prides himself on his practice vigour, but says that his new teammates are safe from the edgier tools in his tool box.

"Practice is practice, game is game," he said. "You just go out there and hoop; you know the difference."

CAMP NOTES

As expected, free-agent signee Hedo Turkoglu didn't join either of the Raptors' two practices yesterday as the team sought to rest him after he followed up his run to the NBA final in June with the Orlando Magic with an appearance for Turkey at the European championships earlier this month. He's also nursing a strained quadriceps tendon, but Raptors head coach Jay Triano didn't rule out him practising later in the week. Chris Bosh (hamstring) was also sidelined. … Triano has instituted a policy of no phones or computers for those watching practice, a ban that extends to team president Bryan Colangelo, who admitted that he was going through withdrawal after going nearly two hours without using his Blackberry. Colangelo said he's allowed to check his messages, but if he needs to respond to one, he has to leave the gym. The idea is that time in the gym should be spent on basketball; if other business needs to be done, it's less distracting if it's taken care of elsewhere, Colangelo said. In addition to two practices, Triano said he was going to hold a classroom session in the afternoon to help his new club absorb his system, but he was impressed at how the team has caught on in the early going. "So far, we're on schedule," he said.

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