THE RAPTORS shocked the basketball world last night by drafting a player with health issues and a questionable attitude who was projected to go much later in the first round.
With the seventh overall pick, Toronto general manager Rob Babcock chose Connecticut power forward Charlie Villanueva, who was listed by most NBA insiders as a player who would be chosen 10th to 25th.
CHORUS OF BOOS
When NBA commissioner David Stern announced Villanueva as the Raptors' chose, the fans at the Air Canada Centre let out a chorus of boos.
"I can't worry about the fans," a defiant Babcock said. "We did our homework, put in a lot of hours, a whole season of work. I know the (media) will rip this thing, but they don't work for us."
Babcock seemed to vindicate himself with the 16th pick, selecting Oklahoma State small forward Joey Graham, who averaged 17.7 points last season.
Villanueva is listed at 6-foot-11, 240 pounds, but a major question mark is why the Raptors would take another power forward with Chris Bosh established at that position.
The Brooklyn, N.Y., native spent two years at UConn, starting in all 31 games as a sophomore, averaging 13.6 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.8 blocks, and was named second team all-Big East.
Villanueva's strengths are many. The 20-year-old is a versatile big man who can play multiple positions, score both inside and out and is an excellent rebounder. He also runs the floor very well and has good passing skills.
"He can do a lot of things for our basketball team," said Babcock. "He can play the four spot and the five spot (centre). He's won a national championship at Connecticut, he's a young player who's shown a learning curve that he is improving."
In a recent interview, Villanueva said he would like to become a dominant small forward.
On the down side, Villanueva's work ethic has come into question and he can be lazy on the defensive end. The words "potential cancer" are frequently used when NBA scouts discuss Villanueva.
"All my life there's been people doubting me," Villanueva said. "But the one thing about me is that I always believed in myself and I know what I'm capable of doing."
Babcock was roundly criticized for picking Brazilian centre Rafael Araujo with the No. 8 selection last year. Araujo struggled in his rookie season in Toronto.
Villanueva suffers from Alopecia Areata, a skin condition resulting in hair loss on the scalp and elsewhere on the body. The disease, which is fairly common, is not life-threatening.
Villanueva was a high school teammate of Luol Deng of the Chicago Bulls at Blair Academy High School, an exclusive school about an hour from New York.
The 6-foot-7, 225-pound Graham is a powerfully built forward who can attack and finish inside or step out and make the mid-range jumpshot, and also shoots a high percentage from the free-throw line.
He has a degree in aviation management and a pilot's licence.