So, instead of resenting the request to prove himself all over again, he is welcoming it. On Wednesday, Ejim eloquently tore down all of the criticisms that hound him, and are at the heart of what teams are fixated on when he comes to visit them. Raptors director of scouting Dan Tolzman said that Ejim will have to defend the wing in the NBA, and the Raptors were trying to determine whether or not he could. However, both player and team reached a similar conclusion. “I just think that it depends on how you view the role and how a lot of teams view a ‘tweener [a player who does not have a natural position] and the way that basketball is played [with] smallball — that’s something that’s an asset,” Ejim said. “That’s something that you can use to help you win games.”
He’s a mature 23-year-old coming off a solid senior season for the Iowa State Cyclones in which he was the Big 12 player of the year, an Academic All-American and a big reason why the Cyclones got all the way to the sweet 16 before losing to the eventual champs Connecticut. Born and raised in Toronto but schooled in basketball in the U.S. since he was 15, Ejim has that ‘tweener’ label stuck on him. At 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds, Ejim is small by NBA standards for a power forward, which is where he played in college. The concern — and it’s certainly not one of his — from outsiders is that he may not be quick enough to guard small forwards at the NBA level which is what he’s going to have to do to make the transition from the college game to the NBA game. Ejim makes his case on the premise that he’s a basketball player first, last and always. Traditional positions in the NBA are becoming less important as teams try to gain an edge by going small or big depending on their roster makeup.
“We come from a background where you’re leaving your country, you’re leaving your family, you’re leaving your friends to pursue basketball, so it’s not just a game we’re playing to hang around,” Ejim said. “I left when I was 15 and if I didn’t make it (to the NBA), it was a waste of time, it was a waste of my mom’s money, it was a waste of my efforts. “So I had an outlook on it that it was professional . . . we go into that, leaving home, with that ideal. We go knowing we want to do everything it takes to make it. We don’t play around, we act mature, we do all the necessary things, we work hard because we know that we have a lot of people in our corner that want us to succeed, and have put a lot into us succeeding.”
The Raptors also brought 6’7 senior Niels Giffey was a prolific three-point shooter with Connecticut who shot 48.3 percent from deep last season and 7’1 senior Alec Brown from Wisconsin-Green Bay who averaged 15.3 points and 2.8 blocks last year. Casey is known for liking shooters, however, Toronto has already brought in some of the best shot blockers from college to have a look at. “I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily a priority, but it’s definitely something – I don’t want to say we lack – but we could have used – we can use,” Tolzman said. “Jonas (Valanciunas) is not a shot blocker, but he protects the rim, the same with all of our other bigs. Our second line guys, we don’t have a big time rim protector out there and I wouldn’t say it’s a priority, but it’s a roster need for sure.”
The Raptors credit their swing to the playoffs to their much improved bench this season. After trading Rudy Gay to the Sacramento Kings the Raptors got a handful of bench players in return that really changed the complexion of the team and while Patterson didn’t play a huge role, he is considered a valuable asset for the Raptors. The question for Patterson is his offer, $4.3 million seems like his range. So do the Raptors issue it and see what the market brings back or do they simply try and work out a deal in that kind of price range? Keeping Patterson seems like a smart move, the question becomes how much and does it happen after a trip through restricted free agency.
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