TORONTO -- Last week, Toronto Raptors coach Sam Mitchell called Chris Bosh into his office for a talk. Mitchell told his young power forward he needed to challenge himself more. He said the truly great players were the ones who raised their own expectations, lifting their teammates in the process.
It's not as if Bosh had been struggling. When he and Mitchell talked, Bosh had just come off a three-game stretch in which he averaged 30 points and 12 rebounds, earning NBA Player of the Week honors. Oh, and he had been selected as a reserve for the NBA All-Star Game.
"I don't think I can ask too much," Mitchell said Sunday before the Raptors' 114-81 victory over Portland in the Air Canada Centre. "Where and when do you stop asking? When do you stop expecting? He can do more."
Bosh has a lot more to offer, which is a scary notion for the rest of the league. In his third pro season, Bosh has blossomed into one of the NBA's finest players, an elegant, efficient offensive force, the hope and centerpiece of a dysfunctional franchise.
Two years ago, as a wide-eyed rookie from Georgia Tech, Bosh said he liked growing up fast. He has been true to his word. Bosh is the only player in the NBA averaging 22 points (22.7) while shooting 50 percent (51.0) from the field and 80 percent (81.8) from the line. Not bad for a 21-year-old who played only one year in college.
"I'm really happy, but I'm not satisfied," Bosh said. "Even though I try to play to my maximum potential, I feel I can always do better. There's always mistakes to be made. I learn from my mistakes. I just want to keep going and get better every day."
Mitchell says the next step for Bosh is to carry Toronto to the playoffs. Bosh, conservatively listed as 6-foot-10, has been compared with Minnesota's 7-foot Kevin Garnett, who also has rare skills and range for a man his size. But like Garnett, Bosh has been criticized for not being assertive enough. Bosh, modest and soft-spoken by nature, has accepted Mitchell's challenge to be more of a leader.
"Oh, yeah. I've been more assertive," said Bosh, who grew up near Dallas. "It was kind of hard for me at first. Coach told me, 'You need to step up and open your mouth more.' I've started doing it. Guys help me out. There are things I have to say sometimes, and I get the feeling they take what I say to heart and try to learn from it."
Players listen when you're The Man, no matter your age. Bosh led the Raptors in scoring 16 straight times at one point. He plays 40 minutes a game. Since Toronto lacks a true center, Bosh takes a physical pounding against the more physical teams. The sleek lefty got a well-deserved break Sunday against a woeful Portland team. He had 14 points and nine rebounds in 27 minutes, barely breaking a sweat.
Early in the game, Bosh blocked Juan Dixon from behind on a break. He swished his first four shots -- a 15-footer, a 20-footer, a righty hook and a spinning layup. He shot only twice in the second half. It was a welcome breather for a Toronto team that had gone to overtime in three of its previous six games. After a 1-15 start, the Raptors have gone 18-17. The playoffs are a remote possibility, but things are looking up.
Bosh is eligible for a contract extension this summer. The Raptors need to keep him. Vince Carter left on bad terms in December 2004, and Bosh is now the franchise guy. He is bright, modest and supremely talented, the sort of player you build a team around.
"I know I'm a good person," Bosh said. "I do my job. I know I'm a professional, and if I do the right things, people will respect me. No matter where it is, as long as I'm playing basketball, as long as I'm in the NBA, that's all that matters."
Bosh is 21 and only scratching the surface of his potential. What coach wouldn't ask for more?