No court barrier for diverse Raps

STEVE BUFFERY, TORONTO SUN

, Last Updated: 2:57 PM ET

THE RAPTORS are now as multicultural as the city they play in.

With three of their four draft picks from Tuesday night coming from non-American backgrounds, the Raps have become one of the most diverse squads in the NBA. However, that does not throw head coach Sam Mitchell for a curve in terms of trying to understand what makes his new players tick.

"These are basketball players," Mitchell said. "I never think about where they're from. I think about what they bring to the table as far as basketball players and people of character.

"Everybody's from somewhere," the coach added. "Is that a concern for me? No. We all have to communicate in the common language of basketball."

First pick Charlie Villanueva's family is originally from the Dominican Republic, while second-round selections Roko Ukic and Uros Slokar hail from Croatia and Slovenia, respectively. They will join a team that has players from Brazil (Rafael Araujo) and Senegal (Pape Sow). As well, free-agent Milt Palacio's parents are from Belize.

UP AND AWAY

Small forward Joey Graham, who was selected 16th overall by the Raps, has a deep love for aviation as well as a pilot's licence. Graham's love of flying comes from his father, who was a pilot in the U.S. Navy.

"He took me up in a Cessna 172 when I was five and I threw up all over myself," Graham said. "But after that I had so much fun."

Graham said flying became a huge part of his life growing up and he jumped at the opportunity to study aviation management at Oklahoma State.

"My goal is to own my own plane one day, a lear jet, and hopefully be like John Travolta. He has his own airstrip right by his house. That's one of my goals."

SUMMER VOCATION

Raptors GM Rob Babcock hopes to have all four of his draft picks play in both summer leagues next month, in L.A. followed by Minneapolis. Hoping, however, is the operative word.

"We're working on travel logistics," he said. "And one of the extra things when you have international players is you have visas to deal with and so forth. So, these guys (Ukic and Slokar) will get real accustomed to the consulates in their countries and here in Toronto as well."

A SLAM FROM SAM

Mitchell didn't get too worked up by the pundits who slammed the selection of Villanueva.

"One day when I get tired of coaching or they run me out of coaching I want to find a job where I can sit back and second- guess everything," he said. "That way, I'm never wrong."


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