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Boucher says he can feel the benefits of his newfound strength at practice


The knock against Chris Boucher has always been his slight stature.

With long Inspector Gadget limbs on his six-foot-eight frame, the Toronto Raptors forward has always the ability to swoop in and bat away balls. But he's traditionally given up pounds and strength in trying to hold his ground against opposing big men under the basket.

And at 27 years old, he couldn't hope for a growth spurt.

But the COVID-19 NBA break had a silver lining for the Montreal native. He figured out a consistent diet that worked, and put on 15 pounds of muscle, and his newfound strength shows.

"Well, whooo, he was good today. He was as good as he can be today," coach Nick Nurse marvelled after Friday's practice in the Orlando area. "He was just all over the glass and running hard and was making shots today and really blocking shots. So . . . it's hard to tell a little bit, but he looks better. I think there is some speed there, there is some energy, he kind of always had that stuff, but he physically looks better as well."

While some players' games likely fell off since the global pandemic shut down the NBA on March 11, the break probably helped some players as well. Boucher, whose official weight was about 200 pounds before the four-month break, hopes he grew from the experience.

"During COVID-19 I tried to figure out ways to change my game, help my IQ, get my teammates involved, a lot more splitting screens and just trying to figure out a way to help my team," Boucher said. "There's a lot of ways you can play this game and it was just my time to figure out what I could do to help this team. I feel like talking to Marc (Gasol), talking to Fred (VanVleet), talking to Kyle (Lowry), they've been giving me advice and I try to bring it to the game."

Boucher won G League MVP honours last season with Raptors 905, but then played just four combined minutes during the Raptors' playoff run en route to the championship.

He was averaging 13.2 minutes a game this season, but there were still questions about an NBA role for someone with his lean stature. The weight gain was part of a quest for a bigger role. He said he feels the difference of added muscle.

"I feel it when I finish, I feel like I was falling on the ground a lot, when I was dribbling the ball I was getting off balance or just focusing on contact so much I feel like I was scared of the hits," he said. "I feel a lot stronger going for a rebound, boxing out.

"Me and Serge (Ibaka, who's a Mack truck in comparison at 235 pounds) fight a lot on the box out . . . he's going at me for me to get better. I can see the difference from the beginning of the season and now how I can stay with him and fight."

Nurse said Boucher's hard work hasn't gone unnoticed.  

"He is trying to make a pitch and trying to get in the rotation and stay in it and get some quality playing time," the coach said. "He certainly is drawing some attention from the coaching staff, that's for sure the way he is playing." 

The 22 teams participating in the NBA's restart are being housed in a quasi-bubble at Walt Disney World, and some disgruntled players have posted on social media about the food.

Is the Raptors' Disney diet enough for Boucher to keep his newfound muscle on? 

"(The NBA) is doing a good job, they gave us five or six restaurants that we can order from from an app, that's outside of what we're getting from the team already," Boucher said. "I always love steak and stuff, and every restaurant that we go to, they have steak, they have salads, I'm going to keep on with it, and I get enough food here to sustain my needs."

The Raptors will have their first of three scrimmages on July 24 versus the Houston Rockets. They open the eight-game seeding round on Aug. 1 versus the Los Angeles Lakers.  

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 17, 2020.

Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press

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