Toronto Raptors forward Chris Bosh has never felt better about being in Toronto, a city he's worked in for six NBA seasons but in some ways is just getting to know.
"It's kind of crazy, I've never spent this much time in the summer here, it's great," he said. "I definitely feel closer to Toronto, I know that for sure."
Ironically, he's talking while packing to leave it far behind.
This week, Bosh will be in South Africa as part of the NBA's Basketball Without Borders program. During the mornings he'll be helping coach at a camp in Johannesburg with the 100 top prospects from the continent, while afternoons and evenings are reserved for community outreach programs and some sightseeing. Bosh is on the trip with the likes of fellow NBA players Dirk Nowitzki, Dwight Howard and Carlos Boozer.
"I'm curious about the world," Bosh said. "It's so big. I'm from Texas and this is what I know, but I want to see what's outside the norm, I want to go places and see how people live. … It's a story to tell and that makes life a lot more interesting."
For Raptors fans, one of the prime storylines of the off-season has been Bosh's reaction to the rapid-fire changes that are remaking the team.
Yesterday, ESPN.com surveyed 52 basketball experts about Bosh's long-term prospects as he heads into what is expected to be his free-agent year in 2010 - only three predicted he would stay in Toronto. New York and Miami were the most popular predicted destinations.
But bound for South Africa, Bosh sounds enthusiastic about the coming season with new teammates Hedo Turkoglu, Jarrett Jack, DeMar DeRozan, Marco Belinelli and others.
"I think we're looking like a good team, and the part I like is I'm not getting too far ahead of myself," he said. "I learned that last year. I was like, 'Yeah, we're good and we're going to be good' and we weren't. I'm taking a more humble approach this year, and it's making me work harder.
"I don't want to do bad this year. I want this team do well and be successful as we can be - that's enough motivation for me right now."
He still won't go so far as to commit to signing a contract extension. Raptors president Bryan Colangelo has said that when the book is finished - that is, when his off-season moves are complete - he'll approach Bosh about re-upping before free agency.
Bosh said earlier this summer that he's not interested, but he allowed that he'd at least listen now.
"We haven't read the book yet, but when he has it ready, I'll gladly sit down and talk about it, discuss pros and cons, and come to a decision," Bosh said. "But I like that we're not sitting around, waiting around, putting all our eggs in the basket and saying we're going to wait for 2010 because we want to have [salary]cap space to get players you might not be able to sign. The do-it-now approach is very motivating, for everyone.
"We're a lot deeper and I think we have a fantastic team. If we work on the small things, we can make some noise."
Also on the trip with Bosh is Raptors assistant general manager Masai Ujiri, a coach with the Nigerian national team and long an influential figure in African basketball. Ujiri is looking forward to helping Bosh explore.
"He's very well-read, very studious and inquisitive," Ujiri said. "I love Chris for that, and this will make him much broader in terms of his knowledge."
But Ujiri isn't above using the time to work on Bosh about his future in Toronto. "I told Bryan he'd better have a flight to South Africa ready," he said.
Bosh is one of the most brand-conscious players in the NBA - he'll be releasing a CD, a DVD and an iPhone application this fall - but heading to Africa is a moment away from that.
"This is about the experience. Of course, there are branding opportunities there, but this kind of trip takes care of itself. To have a chance to make a difference somewhere else is really cool. How do these kids like basketball? Do they want to know some skills? What do they need?" he said. "Sometimes you have to put brand association to the side."
It will also mean a break from a heavy weight-lifting regimen he's been on this summer, but he feels he's deserving of a pause before training camp starts at the end of the month.
"I've been on the grind for two straight months," he said. "I haven't missed too many days, and the good part is you can reward yourself. I don't feel like I'm missing any time because I'll be doing stuff over there."
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