Raptors learning to lose

MIKE KOREEN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:50 AM ET

Joey Graham was asked yesterday to recall the previous season when a team of his started off 0-4.

"I've never been 0-4 in anything," the rookie Raptors forward said.

"The only time I lost four games was the Final Four year (with Oklahoma State in 2003-04 when the Cowboys went 31-4), that was it."

Well, that's a bit of a stretch.

Graham did play for some mediocre Central Florida teams before transferring to Oklahoma State in 2002. But life in the basement is new for the Raptors' three rookies -- Graham, forward Charlie Villanueva, who has NCAA championship experience at Connecticut, and Spanish point guard Jose Calderon, a veteran of Euroleague final four play.

Which begs the question: how will the freshmen react to being in a losing situation?

Coach Sam Mitchell is hoping his players' winning pasts will help them become present winners.

"They've been in winning programs, but that's what you want," said Mitchell, whose team will look for win No. 1 tomorrow night against the visiting Utah Jazz. "You want guys who have won so when they are losing, they can have a tough stretch and understand what you have to do to fight your way out of it. They never accept it."

It's not like winning came easy for Graham at Oklahoma State. He had a front-row seat for a team and life rebuilding project in 2002-03, the year he sat out to transfer.

The previous year, two Oklahoma State players and several staff members died in a plane crash on their way back from a game in Colorado.

Still, the 2002-03 team advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament before losing to eventual national champion Syracuse. What's more, the incident didn't deter Graham from his lifelong goal of earning his pilot's licence last year.

"The year after I got there, they were mourning and down and sick about the things that had happened before," he said.

"But we fought through it and had a great season."

Graham, a starter with the Raptors, is a young man still trying to find himself on the court. He has had the unenviable task of guarding guys like LeBron James and Antawn Jamison and has seen his playing time fall under the 15-minute mark the past two games.

"I'm trying to test the waters," Graham said. "I have to find my equilibrium, what to do and what not to do."

Graham, who strives to be an excellent defender, has learned quickly that playing in the NBA is not a simple task.

"You look at TV and everybody is like, 'I can do that, I can cover LeBron, I can cover Kobe,' but you get out there and it's a whole other story, man, I'm telling you," he said.


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