Raptors rookies struggling

Toronto Raptors' Charlie Villanueva takes a break during a game against the New Jersey Nets last ...

Toronto Raptors' Charlie Villanueva takes a break during a game against the New Jersey Nets last October. (Toronto Sun/David Lucas)

MIKE KOREEN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:22 AM ET

The rookie wall has appeared inside the Air Canada Centre and the Raptors' three freshmen seem to be running into the imposing, imaginary structure.

With the Raptors having played 36 games -- about the same length as a full season and good playoff run in college or European basketball -- Charlie Villanueva, Joey Graham and Jose Calderon are entering uncharted territory.

It is at this time when many rookies struggle -- Chris Bosh said the midway point was the toughest part of his rookie season -- and the Raptors' trio has been doing just that recently.

"It's not about regressing," Raptors coach Sam Mitchell said. "It's just about trying to get our young guys to play. It's tough. I'm pushing them and pulling them and pushing them because we're trying to get them to not play like rookies.

"Everybody gives them an excuse ... 'Well, you're a rookie.' Is it a valid excuse? Yes, it is. It's very valid. It's my job to try to get them past that. We're trying everything we can to not let them succumb to it and it's tough."

Villanueva's struggles have been the most visible, mainly because he has the potential to be such a good player. Mitchell has kept him on the bench in the second half for the past two games and Villanueva hasn't hit the 10-point mark in the past three games.

"Of course I'm frustrated," Villanueva said. "I'm frustrated at myself and the way I've been playing. I ain't frustrated at the coaching staff or any of my teammates, just myself."

"I was trying to stay away from (the rookie wall). I still think I haven't hit it and I don't think I will hit it. I've just got to find a way to get over that hump because right now, I'm struggling big."

Calderon, who played nine minutes on Wednesday in a 95-86 win over the Charlotte Bobcats, hasn't looked good in his four games back since missing three games with a right heel injury. He has hit a grand total of one shot from the field in the past four games and has notched just six assists.

"These seven or eight days off cut your rhythm," he said. "To try to get back to 100% is difficult."

Graham, meanwhile, hasn't had a 10-point game since Dec. 21.

The Raptors held an optional practice yesterday. Their next game is Sunday against the New York Knicks at the Air Canada Centre.


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