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Toronto Raptors guard Norman Powell flashes celebrates after scoring a 3-point shot during the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game against the Sacramento Kings in Sacramento, Calif., Sunday, March 8, 2020. Powell and the Raptors were on the front line of NBA’s shutdown due to the global pandemic,Rich Pedroncelli/The Associated Press

Toronto Raptors guard Norman Powell has been using this forced down time to brush up on his sign language.

The 26-year-old, whose mom was a special needs educator, studied sign language as an elective while at the University of California, Los Angeles, and he is filling his free time while the NBA is suspended because of COVID-19 with online courses in both sign language and Spanish.

“That was pretty cool for me to be able to pick [sign language] back up, because there are a couple road games on the West Coast and some fans are hard of hearing and they sign to me,” Powell said on a conference call Wednesday. “So just to be able … to interact with them is pretty cool.

“I’ve always found it a beautiful language to learn and to be a part of, and I love that community. It’s been a side hobby and interest of mine since I was a kid.”

Powell and the Raptors were on the front line of NBA’s shutdown due to the global pandemic, playing in Utah just two days before the Jazz announced on March 11 that Rudy Gobert had tested positive for the coronavirus. Before the day was over, the league announced it was suspending the season, and the Raptors players and staff went into self-isolation.

Powell is now back home in Las Vegas, where the Raptors had a hoop for his driveway plus some basketballs and weight lifting equipment delivered.

“The team did a good job of being able to send out a hoop for us to be able to get the feel of a basketball,” he said. “Basketballs to go out and get shots up in my driveway [so] I have a court [at] home.

“They’ve done a great job of making sure we’ve been fully equipped to be able to do at-home workouts.”

Would someone driving by be able to see him shooting in his driveway?

“Well, you’d need to get through the gate code first,” Powell laughed. “But, yeah, you’d see me driving by shooting … working on my game.”

When the season shut down, Powell was having the most consistent season of his career despite a couple of injuries, averaging 16.7 points on 50-per-cent shooting through 44 games.

He’s hoping his impressive rate of improvement will continue when the time comes to step back on the court, and so is spending a couple of hours a day studying film.

“I’ve done a great job with the down time, being in quarantine and talking to the coaches, [Patrick] Mutombo and coach [Adrian] Griffin. They’ve been sending me film to look at and break down and see where I can improve,” he said. “Something I can improve is off-ball defence. I can get a little bit too attached to my man and be too late on rotations.

“And then my attacking downhill and reads, I think I’ve done a lot better what that, but there are still some times when I misread what’s happening or I get a little too aggressive and miss the open guy, or I’m anticipating what I’m trying to do with the ball in pick and rolls and things like that.”

Despite their banged up roster, the Raptors were second in the Eastern Conference (46-18), had just locked up a playoff spot and were coming off a five-game West Coast road trip that saw them go 4-1 when the league shuttered.

There’s been plenty of speculation about what the resumption of the NBA season might look like, including a shortened postseason in a neutral city such as Las Vegas.

Powell said he’s “optimistic” that there will be a successful end to the season in some form. While players would need some time on the court before action resumed, the guard said he’s not sure how long that might take.

“I’ve seen the 25-day [proposal] for preparation, for training camp,” he said. “I’m just trying to just stay in the best shape I can with the stuff I do have in the house. I’m running up and down the neighbourhood streets just trying to stay in shape and work out, things like that.

“I think the period is probably like two to three weeks.”

Powell said he and his teammates talk every couple of days, but their conversations are more about checking up on each other’s families and general health than they are about an immediate return to playing.

“Obviously we want to play, go out there and compete and be able to defend [their 2019 NBA championship],” he said. “Honestly, we’re just focused and [taking] precautions with the things we need to do – stay healthy, make sure the people around us are staying healthy. We’re just trying to get prepared and stay ready for what the NBA comes with to try to salvage the rest of the season.

“I don’t think people know exactly what that looks like or will be. I don’t think the guys are frustrated. This is a serious virus and pandemic going on in the world. We’re taking all the precautions that are necessary to stay healthy and be prepared for whatever comes next.”

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