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Caption: Toronto Raptors forward Reggie Evans reacts after a basket against the Philadelphia 76ers during the first half of their pre-season NBA basketball game in London, Ontario October 6, 2009. REUTERS/ Mike Cassese (MIKE CASSESE)
Caption: Toronto Raptors forward Reggie Evans reacts after a basket against the Philadelphia 76ers during the first half of their pre-season NBA basketball game in London, Ontario October 6, 2009. REUTERS/ Mike Cassese (MIKE CASSESE)

Hobbled Evans close to returning Add to ...

In case you've been wondering, Reggie Evans is the rather unkempt gentleman you've perhaps spotted hanging around the Toronto Raptors bench this season, sporting big, baggy blue jeans and oversized shirts that would scare an iron to death.

If the NBA is still enforcing a dress code, it is news to Evans, the easygoing power forward who is still waiting for the opportunity to slip into his formal work attire for the first time with the Raptors.

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Obtained in a trade from the Philadelphia 76ers last June for Jason Kapono, the bruising Evans was to add some much-needed toughness to the Raptors defence. But he has yet to make his presence felt, as a left mid-foot sprain suffered during training camp has taken a frightfully lengthy time to heal, sidelining Evans for all 51 games this season.

"I'd never in a million years think this injury would have me sitting out this long," the 29-year-old said yesterday after practice. "Usually, when I get an injury, I just walk it off and come back and be ready to play."

But the truculent Evans is finally close to returning, having tested the ankle for more than a week, getting his 6-foot-8, 245-pound frame ready for some serious pounding. The seven-year veteran may get his first opportunity to play for his new team against his old team, the 76ers, who are in Toronto tomorrow.

Head coach Jay Triano suggested the Raptors' final outing before the NBA all-star break might be Evans's coming-out-party.

"I'd like to play him on Wednesday if I can," Triano said. "I don't know if it will be significant minutes, we'll see how it goes."

For Evans, it can't come soon enough, having tired of playing the role of cheerleader for the revitalized Raptors, comfortably settled into second place in the Atlantic Division with a 28-23 record (fifth in the Eastern Conference).

The Raptors have won seven in a row at the Air Canada Centre, and seven of their past eight overall. They enter tomorrow's game with an opportunity to tie the franchise record for most wins before the all-star break (29 has been reached twice before, in 2006-07 and 2001-02).

Chris Bosh, the Raptors' lone representative in the all-star game that will be played in his home town of Dallas on Sunday, said he is looking forward to seeing Evans back on the court policing the paint.

"It will be five or 10 very intense minutes," Bosh said. "Reggie only has one speed. He plays very, very hard. Just to have a guy like that back, I think it's good for us energy-wise.

"I think with him and Amir [Johnson] they can really provide a lot of deflections on defence, second-chance points and things of that nature."

Evans said he has found it interminable waiting for the opportunity to prove to Raptors general manager Bryan Colangelo that he made the right move in trading for him.

"B.C. did everything in his power to get me over here and be a part of the team - which I am a part of the team - and this is what happens," Evans said. "But it ain't stopped me, though. I still worked hard to get back."

It has taken some getting used to, being away from the game while recovering from his first major injury, Evans said.

There's the taunts he has learned to endure from family and friends - ".'You'll be a good coach.' I hear that all the time" - and he's had to alter his weightlifting program so he wouldn't get too bulky and unable to move as quickly, and keep close tabs on his diet.

He listed candy as his favourite vice that he had to give up.

"I'm a candy fanatic," Evans said, expressing a special fondness for a kind of Gummi bear concoction. "A lot of people who know the kind of money I make don't attempt to know what I want for Christmas or whatever, because they feel like I've got everything. So a lot of times they just give me a box of candy, you know what I'm saying?"

With Evans's return to the court, Triano has the issue of trying to find enough time to go around for his players.

Hedo Turkoglu, DeMar DeRozan and Jose Calderon all returned to active duty for last Sunday's 115-104 win over the Sacramento Kings. And Marco Belinelli (ankle) practised yesterday and appears ready to go tomorrow.

Triano said centre Andrea Bargnani's ankle was a bit tender and his participation in practice yesterday was limited.

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