Two countries and four cities later, the Raptors can finally settle into a place they call home. The Toronto (Tampa) Raptors began the 2020 calendar year in their home city Toronto before the NBA season was suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When the NBA season resumed, the Raptors gathered in Fort Myers, FL, for training camp part two to get ready to finish the season.
After a short training camp, the Raptors then went to Lake Buena Vista, FL, to finish the NBA season, which ended in a second-round loss to the Boston Celtics in the NBA playoffs. Due to COVID cases on the rise, the Canadien government has closed the border to non-essential travel forcing the Raptors to find a new home.
After a team vote, the Raptors chose to go to Tampa and call Tampa, FL home for the first half of the 2021 season. St. Leo College, a division two school on the East side of Pasco County, has been the Raptor’s training camp home for the last two weeks as they prepare for the upcoming season. St. Leo college is 35 miles north of downtown Tampa, and there other facilities that the Raptors could have used that would have been closer to Tampa. USF, the University of Tampa, and a couple of other facilities were ready and eager to host the Raptors training camp, so why did the raptors choose St. Leo college?
Raptors head coach Nick Nurse and St. Leo men’s basketball coach Lance Randall coached against one another in the British Basketball league in the early 2000s. The two coaches have stayed in touch through the years and became friends. The other factor was that St. Leo college offered what the Raptors were looking for from a training environment.
The gym has ten baskets, which is what the Raptors have at their home facility in Toronto. The training center has plenty of space available that allows for small group and individual training. A balcony overlooks the court where executives can observe practice in a safe, socially distanced environment.
The Raptor’s last day at St. Leo college is December 11. If the Raptors need additional time at St. Leo College, it would be on a day-by-day basis. The Raptors will be moving shortly to their training facility at the J.W. Mariott in downtown Tampa. The Mariott is a new hotel and part of Lightning owner Jeffrey Vinik’s Water Street project. The Mariott is within walking distance of Amalie Arena, where the Raptors will play the first half of their NBA schedule.
The Raptors will play their only pre-season game in Charlotte on December 12 against the Hornets. The Raptors will then have a two-week break before their home opener against Zion Williamson and the New Orleans Pelicans.
The NBA fans in Tampa may not be able to watch the Raptors on the local sports regional network. The Orlando Magic has the territorial rights for T.V./Radio in Tampa. Unless an agreement is reached shortly, the Raptor NBA fan in Tampa will not be able to watch Raptor games on T.V. unless they’re nationally televised.
To quote the Grateful Dead, “What a long strange trip it has been.” No other team has had to deal with the travel situation that the Raptors have had to deal with this year. Even if it is a temporary home, the Raptors are now home and ready to begin to play in the 20-21 NBA season.