Changing their tune

New Raptor, Charlie Villanueva, drives by James Lang of the Utah Jazz at the ACC,October 12,2005....

New Raptor, Charlie Villanueva, drives by James Lang of the Utah Jazz at the ACC,October 12,2005. (SUN/Craig Robertson)

MIKE KOREEN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:05 AM ET

The wide smile on Charlie Villanueva's face told the story.

"It's about time," a laughing Villanueva said yesterday when asked if he had seen the lead story on CNNSI's basketball website earlier this week.

Ripped by seemingly every American national basketball media outlet after being selected seventh overall by the Raptors, Villanueva actually saw a positive article about him on a mainstream website this week.

"Raptors' Villanueva ready to surprise," read the headline on Marty Burns' feature story, which came out after Villanueva completed the pre-season with an NBA rookie-leading scoring average of 16.9 points.

But don't mention the word "surprise" to Raptors general manger Rob Babcock.

"I'm not surprised at all," Babcock said when asked about Villanueva's eye-opening pre-season. "We drafted him because we really thought he was a versatile player who knows how to play the game."

Hard to argue with that after eight impressive exhibition games.

Villanueva, however, isn't getting caught up in the early returns. Coach Sam Mitchell won't let him.

"He's got to work on his defence. He's got to rebound better. He can make better passes, better decisions and learn the offence better," Mitchell said. "Charlie has made some tremendous strides, but he's still got a long way to go."

The New York native agrees with his coach. Things will become a lot more difficult starting Wednesday when the Raptors play host to the Washington Wizards in the season opener at the Air Canada Centre

"I've got to get mentally prepared for (Wednesday)," he said. "It's going to be a different game. There is going to be a lot more coaching involved and people are going to come at us harder.

"Personally, I throw (the pre-season) out the window because it doesn't really matter. Other teams probably will adjust to me when I'm on the court. I've just got to accept the challenge and go for it."

The areas Villanueva feels he needs the most work in are defence and rebounding. The UConn product averaged 5.3 rebounds in the pre-season, not bad, but not great.

He said, however, that one of his goals is to be a regular double-double man.

Defensively, Villanueva probably wants to match the intensity of fellow first-round pick Joey Graham and said he felt his defence was "average" in the pre-season.

"I can score as many points as I want, but if the guy I'm guarding scores the same or more, then it means nothing," Villanueva said.


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