Spain's main game

The Toronto Raptors' Jose Calderon, here at practice yesterday, will face Spanish compatriot Pau...

The Toronto Raptors' Jose Calderon, here at practice yesterday, will face Spanish compatriot Pau Gasol tonight at the ACC. (Toronto Sun/Alex Urosevic)

MIKE GANTER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:58 AM ET

It may not cause a stir in NBA circles, but tonight's matchup between the Raptors and Memphis Grizzlies at the Air Canada Centre is one of the anticipated events on the Spanish sports calendar.

It pits Pau Gasol of the Grizzlies against the Raps' Jose Calderon -- the only two Spaniards on NBA active rosters.

Teammates for five years on Spain's national team, the two remain good friends and were scheduled to renew acquaintances off the court with a dinner date last night.

Back home, their families, friends and countrymen were getting a good night's sleep in anticipation of a 1 a.m. tip off in a rare nationally televised game.

"I'm sure they will be watching," Calderon said.

Gasol was one of Calderon's first calls after signing with the Raptors as the rookie leaned on his more NBA-experienced countryman for some advice.

The best advice he got from Gasol was be patient.

"Everything in the game takes time," Calderon said. "He said 'It's a long process. You will have bad games, but don't worry, you will get better.' "

But Calderon refuses to get caught up in the excitement of tonight's game.

"It's more special for the people back in Spain, my friends, his friends, our families," he said. "Not for us. Once the game starts you forget who you are playing. You just play."

The truth of the matter is Calderon really can't afford to be distracted. He is getting a crash course in NBA basketball on a daily basis. Unlike other rookies in the league, the Raptors aren't able to ease him, Joey Graham or Charlie Villanueva into the mix.

Head coach Sam Mitchell paints a vivid picture of what this is like.

"(Today) it's going to be Damon Stoudamire," Mitchell said of the former Raptors and league rookie of the year whom, Calderon will be asked to guard.

"We're going to show him some film, show him a piece of paper (a scouting report) and tell him to guard him," Mitchell said. "That piece of paper will tell him Stoudamire is left-handed, but it's not going to be able to tell him how quick he is."

As far as Mitchell is concerned, his trio of rookies is being asked to do much more than many other rookies in the league. The Raptors simply don't have the veteran depth for it to be any other way.

"Hey, they're 15 games into their NBA careers. (Calderon's) doing as well as can be expected. There is a lot being put on his plate. I look around the league and there are a lot of first-round picks ... not getting a chance to play. We're not just giving our guys a chance, we're asking them to win basketball games."

Calderon, thanks in part to Gasol's advice, is very much aware of this.

So while the eyes of his nation will be on him tonight, all Calderon is concerned with is getting more comfortable with the NBA game.


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