The selection of Charlie Villanueva in last year's NBA draft was met with about as much enthusiasm as a cholera epidemic.
But it seems the Raptors were not as far off as many suggested when then-general manager Rob Babcock chose Villanueva with the seventh pick overall.
Villanueva has played well all season, but yesterday his accomplishments were rubber-stamped when the Raptors rookie was selected to play in the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge on Feb. 17 at the Toyota Center in Houston.
The rookie/sophomore game is part of the NBA All-Star Weekend.
Villanueva, 21, admitted yesterday that being selected as one of nine rookies to play in the game came as sweet vindication, after critics across the board blasted the Raptors for taking him seventh.
"Since Day 1, since they drafted me, people have criticized me, so I carried that in my pocket with me (all season)," Villanueva said yesterday. "It's a good accomplishment to be able to prove my critics wrong and playing in that game is an honour."
The participants in the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge were selected by the NBA's assistant coaches, with each team submitting one ballot.
TOPS IN THE NBA
Through 44 games this season, Villanueva is averaging 11.9 points, third among rookies, 5.2 rebounds, second on the Raptors, and 24.4 minutes. He has led the team in bench scoring 24 times, and tops all players in the NBA who have not started a game with 91 offensive rebounds.
The former Connecticut standout recorded a season-best 27 points and 13 rebounds Nov. 15 at Philadelphia. He earned NBA Eastern Conference rookie of the month honours for December after he posted averages of 14.2 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 24.8 minutes in 13 games.
"My ultimate goal was to be in the NBA and now I'm here and I have to set my standards higher," the New York City native said. "I'm in the rookie game and the next step is to be an all-star and just keep going up and up."
Villanueva joins Damon Stoudamire, Marcus Camby, Tracy McGrady, Morris Peterson and Chris Bosh as Raptors selected to compete in the event. Villanueva is joined on the rookie team by Andrew Bogut of the Milwaukee Bucks, Chris Paul of New Orleans, Luther Head of the Houston Rockets, Danny Granger and Sarunas Jasikevicius of the Indiana Pacers, Channing Frye and Nate Robinson of the New York Knicks and Deron Williams of the Utah Jazz.