TORONTO - All those long nights at the Air Canada Centre have paid off for Jay Triano.

After spending the last five-plus months as Toronto Raptors interim head coach, the Canadian was given the job permanently Monday with a three-year contract.

"It's a great honour for me to be really rewarded by an organization that I've been devoted to for the past seven years," Triano told a news conference. "I've spent an awful lot of time late at night here at the arena preparing for games . . . Things won't change."

Triano, 50, became the first Canadian-born and Canadian-trained coach in the NBA when he was hired by the Raptors in 2002 as an assistant to Lenny Wilkens.

Toronto general manager Bryan Colangelo said Triano has proven himself over his seven years with the club, especially when he was called upon to take over the struggling Raptors on Dec. 3 after Sam Mitchell was fired.

"It's been a great opportunity to see what he's made of, and see what his basketball mindset is," Colangelo said of Triano's years as an assistant. "But then to see it put into action when he was named the interim head coach, he was given not the most ideal circumstances to fight through. Yet each day he showed up with a positive attitude."

Colangelo told an all-sports radio station in Toronto that the first two years of Triano's deal are guaranteed while the third is an option that can be triggered if the team performs to a certain level, among other clauses.

Triano, a native of Niagara Falls, Ont., was 25-40 as interim coach but finished the season on a high note, guiding the club to a 9-4 mark in its final 13 games. Still the team finished 13th in the Eastern Conference, well out of the playoffs, with a 33-49 record.

It was a disappointing end to a season that had started with so much optimism. Colangelo even went so far as to say that on paper at least, it was the best Raptors team ever assembled.

But things quickly went into a tailspin. Point guard Jose Calderon injured his hamstring, a problem that would plague him all but the last few weeks of the season. The off-season addition of centre Jermaine O'Neal never really worked, and he was sent to Miami at the trade deadline.

Mitchell paid the price for the poor start with his job, fired the day after an embarrassing 132-93 debacle in Denver.

While Triano wasn't able to turn things around dramatically, he did earn the respect of his players and that was one of the reasons Colangelo know he was the right man for the job.

"The players responded," said Colangelo. "It didn't necessarily pan out in the form of wins all the time but it did pan out in the form of respect from the players.

"That ability and that premise is one of the primary things that you hope to see when a coach takes the reins."

Colangelo also took his share of the responsibility for the team's struggles this season.

"Any deficiencies in the roster I've already talked about, that falls on me," he said. "Make no mistake about it, there's no deficiencies here with Jay as the head coach of this basketball team."

Colangelo said he and his staff talked about other coaching candidates but they kept returning to one name.

"It always came back to Jay Triano," he said. "Jay Triano has these qualities. Jay Triano has this track record. Jay Triano has dealt with this team and this roster and this organization and there is a compatibility there."

Colangelo said he plans to spend a lot of time with Triano over the summer talking about the roster. And Triano will have a major say in the direction of the team, Colangelo said.

"I'm a consensus guy," said Colangelo. "If it doesn't work for him, it's not going to work for us."

His coaching staff will be one of his first priorities. Triano said he's already been mulling it over.

"I've obviously thought about it a little bit over the past couple weeks but it's pretty tough to make a decision and to talk to people about something when your own contract is up in the air," he said. "That's one of the things that from today moving forward I'll start to look at."

His current staff comprises assistants Alex English, Mike Evans and Canadian Gord Herbert.

Triano, a member of the Canada Basketball Hall of Fame, compiled a lengthy basketball career before arriving in Toronto. He spent 11 distinguished seasons playing for Canada and then six more as the team's head coach, leading 5-2 Canada to a seventh-place finish at the 2000 Olympics.

Now that he's officially got the head coaching title in Toronto, Triano plans to get right to work. He says the Raptors need to improve on defence next season if they want to be among the league's top teams.

"Last year we were not real strong defensively," he said. "I know that's the part we have to get a whole lot better at if we're going to be playing at this time of year."

Toughness is also an area he wants to improve, saying that can be done through personnel changes and coaching.

"Toughness is something we need address," he said. "I don't think we were a real tough team. Even now as we educate ourselves during the playoffs, this is tough basketball. If you're going to be playing at this time of year you better be pretty tough.

"I think it's something as we start in training camp, we build towards and hopefully we're playing next year at this time."