NATIONALISM WAS not a factor for the Raptors during last night's NBA draft.
Canadian power foward Juan Mendez went undrafted, but it was the Raptors' decision not to pick up the Montreal native with their 58th pick that is bound to raise some eyebrows.
Many felt the Raps would use their last pick to take Mendez, who averaged a sensational 23.5 points per game with the Niagara Purple Eagles last season, finishing his four-year career as the only player in school history to record 2,000 points and 1,000 rebounds and leading his team to a spot in the NCAA tournament.
The good news, however, is that the Raptors will invite the Montreal native to their NBA summer league team.
"We absolutely considered Juan," GM Rob Babcock said. "We think he's a very good prospect. He fits our philosophy at our ends and he's a good player, and I think he has a chance (of making the team)."
"It's disappointing," Mendez said last night at a gathering in Lewiston, N.Y. "But they made those decisions on what they want to do with their program, and I wasn't part of it."
SECOND ROUND PICKS
With their first pick in the second round (41st overall), the Raptors selected Croatian point guard Roko Ukic, who was once considered a first-round possibility.
Ukic played in the Nike Hoop Summit in San Antonio and held Sebastian Telfair, now with the Portland Trail Blazers, to 1-for-10 shooting. He was also one of the stars at the Reebok Euroleague camp in Treviso, Italy in June.
At 6-foot-5, Ukic is a big kid who has great energy, ball handling ability, quickness, athleticism and a good work ethic.
On the down side, there are issues about his body. He's rail thin at 185 pounds and his long-range shooting touch is also a question mark.
Babcock was high on Joey Graham as the team's second pick in the first round (16th overall).
"We needed really to address the defensive end of our team," Babcock said. "Being a great athlete and having a desire to play defence, this is a guy who really helps us in that area, and with leadership. He can shoot the ball as well."