NBA

Canadian Raptors Brissett, Boucher happy to be back after making most of time off

Oshae Brissett might have been in the thick of another long Raptors playoff run had COVID-19 not shut down sports around the world in mid-March. Instead, he was home to support his pregnant partner Ieesha Callum, there for the birth of their daughter Ellai Aria on May 28, and has watched her grow in the weeks since.

Brissett, 22, witnessed birth of daughter Ellai in May

Toronto Raptors forward Oshae Brissett, seen above in October, said Monday he's used the time during the NBA's pause to welcome his newborn daughter Ellai into the world. (Cole Burston/The Canadian Press)

The NBA shutdown provided a silver lining for new dad Oshae Brissett.

The 22-year-old from Toronto might have been in the thick of another long Raptors playoff run had COVID-19 not shut down sports around the world in mid-March. Instead, he was home to support his pregnant partner Ieesha Callum, there for the birth of their daughter Ellai Aria on May 28, and has watched her grow in the weeks since.

"Especially at that time [in May], we would have been deep in the playoffs or somewhere on the road, so it's a blessing in disguise," Brissett said. "I was able to spend some good time with her and be with her, and kind of learn the beginning stages of her life. So it's great."

Boarding the Raptors' flight to Florida two weeks ago wasn't so great.

While Brissett is happy to be back on the basketball court, the Raptors could be centralized in Florida — one of the world's hotspots for the novel coronavirus — for the next three months, with no chance of seeing family until the second round of the playoffs tip off on Sept. 1.

"I knew that the opportunity that we had to get back here together as a team, I was going to jump on it right away, no matter what the circumstances were," Brissett said. "Obviously it's tough leaving my daughter, but FaceTime and all those things that are available now, I call her all the time and I'm on the phone with her, just talking to her.

"It wasn't a tough decision to leave, but getting on that plane and saying bye, that was the toughest part."

Brissett, a guard/forward, said Callum has plenty of help with the baby.

"Jamaican families are large," he said with a laugh on a Zoom call with reporters Monday. "She has a whole bunch of support, for sure. That's why I'm not really worried, I know that she's going to be loved and taken care of the same way she would even I was there."

Florida recorded an all-time high of 11,400 new COVID-19 cases Saturday, and has seen its positive test rate over the past two weeks reach more than 18 per cent. Seven NBA teams have had to temporarily shut down training facilities due to coronavirus cases, most recently the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Raptors are scheduled to travel to Orlando on Thursday, where they'll join 21 other clubs in the league's quasi-bubble at Disney World.

Brissett, whose other brother Dejon was selected No. 2 overall by the Toronto Argonauts in April's CFL draft, plans to carefully follow the coronavirus protocols.

"I'm going to do everything to stay away and keep myself as away from the virus as possible because I have my daughter to think about," said Brissett, who was on a two-way deal with Toronto this season, splitting time with the Raptors and their G League affiliate Raptors 905. "When she does come down here I don't want to have any problems, and also I want to be on the court and play.

"Those two things, I know I want to play and I want her to be down here and not to worry about anything happening to her."

Boucher says he's gained 15 pounds during his time off from the NBA season. (Mary Altaffer/The Associated Press)

Canadian teammate Chris Boucher, meanwhile, made the most of his break from basketball. The slender forward from Montreal said he gained 15 pounds of muscle, putting him at around 215 pounds on his six-foot-six frame.

"I have kind of figured out a way to gain weight and get stronger," he said. "I think one of my biggest problems was I was never able to see the change and it's always hard when you feel like you are working hard and you don't see that change.

"I figured ways to maintain my weight and gain a little bit more every week or two."

Boucher said he carefully tracked his caloric output during workouts, then made sure to replenish those calories when he ate.

"There was a lot of stuff I didn't understand about nutrition and I took the time during COVID-19 to focus on those things," he said.

Matt Thomas found the first few weeks of lockdown tough. Since the Raptors' last game before the March 11 shutdown was in Utah — Rudy Gobert of the Jazz was the first NBA player to test positive — they had to quarantine for two weeks upon their return to Toronto. Thomas ended up staying in Canada for more than a month and the Raptors sharp-shooter had no access to a basketball hoop before he finally made the 12-hour drive home to Wisconsin where he had access to a gym and weight room.

"I can't remember the last time I went two weeks, let alone almost two months, without being able to shoot a basketball," Thomas said. "I was trying to find parks to play in and whatnot in Toronto when those were still open, but then everything shut down. It was tough.

"But you can do different things, watching film, visualization exercises I was trying to do. [Then] the feelings and everything came back pretty quick for me in the gym. It was more so just getting your body ready, making sure you get your legs strong enough, and your legs underneath you, but I've shot hundreds of thousands of shots in my life. That's not going to go anywhere."

The Raptors have been confined to just four players per practice session, consisting of one player at each hoop. They'll be able to resume full practice once they've arrived at Disney World and cleared COVID-19 testing protocols.

They open the season restart on Aug. 1 versus the Los Angeles Lakers.

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