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Jay Triano of Niagara Falls, Ont., is Raptors interim head coach. ((Frank Gunn/Canadian Press))

Jay Triano has long been the face of basketball in Canada. Now he becomes the face of Canada's lone NBA franchise.

Triano, from Niagara Falls, Ont., was named interim head coach of the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday, replacing the fired Sam Mitchell.

The move comes seven years after Triano first joined the franchise, becoming the first Canadian-born coach in the NBA.

"I have always been a proud Canadian in playing and representing my country," Triano told reporters Wednesday in a conference call from Denver.

"If this is another way I'm seen as representing Canada, then I feel proud of that."

If the Raptors wanted to do an about-face on the bench, they could not have picked more of a polar opposite to replace the larger-than-life Mitchell.

To call Triano reserved, in comparison to Mitchell, would be a considerable understatement.

So it was no surprise Triano wasn't over the top when talking about the news Wednesday.

"It's a little bittersweet," he said. "Sam gave me the opportunity to work with him and was great to work with.

"When you're together for 3½ years, as well as being coaches, you become friends. But it is an opportunity and I look forward to moving forward and seeing what we can do with this basketball team."

Triano, 48, first served as an assistant to Lenny Wilkens with the Raptors in 2002-03, but he had already compiled a lengthy basketball career before arriving in Toronto.

Triano spent 11 distinguished seasons playing for Canada and six more seasons as national head coach, leading the team that went 5-2 at the 2000 Olympics and finished seventh.

He counts the late Jack Donohue as one of his biggest coaching influences, along with Mitchell.

"When you play for somebody for 11 years, their philosophies and values — not only of the game but the off-court stuff — gets instilled in you," Triano said. "And I have learned an immense amount from Sam.

"He was a guy that played in the CBA, played overseas, was a non-starter, was a starter. He knew the ins and outs of the NBA and you learn from people you spend the most amount of time with."

Triano played his college ball at Simon Fraser University from 1977-81, where he set 11 records, including the school scoring mark of 2,616 points (which has since been passed).

Triano was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers in 1981, but he never played a game with the team and was also drafted by the Calgary Stampeders of the CFL.

He played in the 1984 and 1988 Olympics and was part of the team that won gold at the 1983 World University Games in Edmonton, beating the United States in a mammoth upset.

He was inducted into Canada Basketball Hall of Fame in 1993.

Triano comes into the job 1-0, having served as interim head coach for one game last season when Mitchell was away on a family matter.

The Raptors defeated the visiting New Jersey Nets 109-91 on Feb. 13.