WE'LL SAY this for the Raptors. They dare to be different.
But the guys who thought up the XFL dared to be different.
The guys who invented the new Coke dared to be different.
The guys who drafted a dead man to play for the Ottawa Rough Riders dared to be different.
The guys who were dazzled by Rafael Araujo dared to be different. Oh, wait a minute. That was the Raptors, too.
After a shocking selection a year ago, Rob Babcock, the Raptors' general manager, and his army of advisers resisted conventional wisdom again last night as they went about their business in the 2005 NBA draft.
With the No. 7 pick, the Raptors took Charlie Villanueva, a 6-foot-11 power forward from Connecticut. Charlie who?
Then with the No. 16 pick, the Raptors took Joey Graham, a 6-foot-7 small forward from Oklahoma State. Widely lauded.
Now, if the Raptors had taken Graham at No. 7 and Villanueva at No. 16, fewer eyebrows would have been raised. But when have the Raptors ever done anything the conventional way?
The draft had a funny twist to it in that two of the players many pundits thought the Raptors might select at No. 7 -- Gerald Green and Danny Granger -- still were available when the club picked at No. 16. And the Raptors passed, again, in favour of Graham.
In the second round, the Raptors took Croatian point guard Roko Ukic at No. 41 and Slovenian forward Uros Slokar at No. 58. Some analysts had Ukic going in the middle of the first round, so that could be a real steal.
The Villanueva pick was the surprising one.
"I laugh at people who ask why we would take Charlie Villanueva. Because he's very skilled," Raptors coach Sam Mitchell said. "And we want people who want to be in Toronto."
Of course, Mike Myers loves being in Toronto, too, but the Raptors didn't draft him.
The Raptors already have a gentleman by the name of Chris Bosh to play power forward. Maybe Villanueva can play centre, but he's exactly five pounds heavier than Bosh.
"You can play them together at the same time," Babcock said. "It was important for us to go big with our first pick. We figured we had a better chance to go big at No. 7 than at No. 16."
The crowd of season-ticket holders at the Air Canada Centre booed when the selection of Villanueva was announced. Last year, a similar crowd at the ACC booed when the Raptors took Araujo with the eighth-overall pick.
"I can't worry about the crowd," Babcock said moments after nabbing Villanueva. Babcock put on a brave face, but he appeared shaken by the harsh reaction from the TV broadcasters.
"(The TV analysts) may rip it, but they don't work for our team," Babcock said. "We do our own picks."
No argument there.
Villanueva can rebound, but he's also reputed to be a tad passive. Sounds like a Raptor to us.
To be fair, we don't want to condemn anyone before they've played a minute. Villanueva might be fine. And the joke making the rounds that the only reason Babcock chose Villanueva was to make Araujo look good, well, that's just cruel.
What's more, if Graham -- who has a good jumper, plays defence and is built like a truck -- is as solid as anticipated, who knows how Raptors fans might perceive this draft down the road?
According to sources, Babcock was working the phones last night trying to get another pick late in the first round. "We're still pursing quite a few things," Babcock said.
There was a stir in Toronto this week when word leaked that the Raptors and the New Orleans Hornets were talking trade, with Hornets centre Jamaal Magloire -- a Toronto native-- on the table. But the Raptors declined to give up both their first-round picks, and the Hornets subsequently got calls from at least five other teams, saying, "If you're trading Magloire, don't do it till you see what we have to offer."
The Raptors don't have Magloire this morning. They have Villanueva, Graham, Ukic and Slokar. The new Fab Four?
Fearlessness is an admirable quality. However, when it comes to going against the grain in the NBA draft, fearlessness had better work out. If it doesn't, it's called wrecklessness.
The Hall of Fame is filled with GMs who were independent thinkers. But so is the unemployment line.