Raptors GM Rob Babcock would like nothing better than for a Canadian to crack his team's roster.
But he's not about to waste a draft pick on a player just because the kid happens to hail from the Great White North.
"I think it would be, obviously, good for our team to be able to have a Canadian, for fan interest and so forth," Babcock said after putting Montreal native Juan Mendez through a workout yesterday at the Air Canada Centre. "But that being said, we're not bringing anybody on our team unless they're good enough to play on our team.
"The bottom line is, we need players that are going to be top 12 players on our team," Babcock added, brushing aside suggestions that he would ever sign a player just to be a token Canadian. "You don't have the luxury of doing that. We're trying to build a winning team here and we'll consider anybody from any country, it doesn't matter."
Still, Babcock is high on Mendez, who averaged an impressive 23.5 points per game as a senior with Niagara University this past season, while helping the Purple Eagles to an NCAA tournament spot.
A power forward in college, the 6-foot-8 Mendez has to prove that he can make the successful transition to small forward if he has any hope of making it into the NBA. But Babcock was impressed with what he say yesterday.
"He played a little bit more on the inside in college than he would in the NBA, so you're looking for his perimetre skills, and he showed that he can go outside and he shot the NBA three-point very well," Babcock said. "He (also) showed that he can get up and down the court and do some things that are more of the small forward nature."
SIZE DOES MATTER
Mendez is not very big for the NBA and has trouble seeing his teammates on the court. It's uncertain whether he'll get picked in this year's draft, but with two second round selections, it's not out of the question that the Raps may pick him up.
"He's someone we'll continue to look at," Babcock said.
Mendez said he has no expectations for the draft, although he'll be worked out next week by at least three other NBA teams, including New Jersey, Denver and Phoenix.
"I just want to play, hopefully at the highest level, the NBA, and if not, go somewhere else," he said.
He'll likely go to the Dominican Republic at the end of August as a member of Canada's team at the world championship qualifying tournament.