Siakam sets pace at Raptors camp with work ethic

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VICTORIA – There is no beating Pascal Siakam to the gym in the morning.

The Toronto Raptors forward is setting the pace at training camp in Victoria, as the first at practice and the last to leave. Siakam stated a lofty goal at media day on Monday of being a top-five player in the NBA. His teammates believe he has the work ethic to get there.

“Pascal’s one of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen — ever,” said forward Khem Birch. “When he wakes up in the morning, I don’t even think he eats breakfast or stretches. He works out for hours before practice, practises, and then works out for another hour after practice. I’ve never seen anything like it.

“I think he’s going to be very special, coming soon. This is going to be a really big year for him.”

The 28-year-old Siakam was named the league’s most improved player in the Raptors’ championship season in 2019, and earned all-star honours the following year. He’s been All-NBA twice in the past three seasons.

He had rough time in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, and was the target of racists on social media after he struggled in the NBA bubble in 2020.

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Siakam got off to a slow start last season after missing training camp and the first 10 games due to off-season shoulder surgery, but bounced back to average 22.8 points and a career-high 8.5 rebounds.

“I just feel like it’s time to take another step. I’ve always believed in that. I’ve tried every single year to take another step,” Siakam said on Monday’s media day. “After the year that I had, I just feel like there’s so many things I can get better on, and the next step, like I’ve been All-NBA, I’ve been an All-Star. I want to be a top-five player in the league. I want to be one of the best, and I will do everything that I can to work toward that.

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“I think I’m ready for it, yeah, it’s time.”

He bristled after Thursday’s practice at the University of Victoria when asked to elaborate on his top-five goal.

“I don’t think I need to explain myself, I said what I said,” he said. “I just have to be a better player … and I think we’ve got to win as a team. Obviously, I have goals individually but that doesn’t matter until we get to a point where we’re a top team in the league or we’re up there. All that will come with everything else.”

Raptors new assistant coach Rico Hines, who’s worked with Siakam every off-season since 2016, said he’s seen a shift in mentality in the Cameroonian forward.

“He’s always been a nice guy. And now he’s becoming a little bit meaner. And that’s good,” Hines said. “We want them to continue to grow in that aspect, because that’s what it takes for you to be one of the elites … we talk a lot (about) being addicted to being great and being addicted to that feeling of being great, and that’s the biggest growth that I’ve seen.”

Hines said Siakam has always been a hard worker, and it’s been more of the same at camp in Victoria.

“He’s over here two hours before practice, and he’s in a full sweat, drenched before we even started practice. That’s who he is,” Hines said.

Siakam, who was drafted 27th overall in 2016 and, like All-Star guard Fred VanVleet, worked his way up through the team’s G League affiliate Raptors 905, was asked if his work ethic can rub off on the younger players at camp.

“I’m not super talkative, and I just believe that every day they come in and see me, every single day I’m the first in the gym, I think that just shows them … they’re going to kind of take it from just seeing my work and how I believe in what I do.”

The Raptors head to Edmonton on Saturday to host the Utah Jazz in their pre-season opener on Sunday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 30, 2022.

© 2022 The Canadian Press