The day after June's draft, Charlie Villanueva was on a plane to Toronto, scanning a newspaper. He wished he'd watched the in-flight movie instead. "It was like every article said the same thing," Villanueva recalls. "Why did the Raptors draft this guy?"
The 6'11", 240-pound power forward from UConn should have seen it coming. His surprise selection at No. 7 had been panned by numerous broadcast experts, who said that Villanueva was soft, moody and not a hard worker. He also played the same position as Raptors star Chris Bosh.
But Villanueva had heard worse. As a 13-year-old in Queens, N.Y., doctors diagnosed that he had alopecia areata, a skin disease that left him with no hair on his body. "Kids made fun of me," Villanueva recalls. "Fortunately I had basketball to help me forget about it and motivate me."
Toronto coach Sam Mitchell also shrugs off the criticism of his new big man. The second-year coach is impressed with Villanueva's skill and versatility. After watching Villanueva average 17.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists in three games in the L.A. Summer League, a beaming Mitchell said, "This kid can play."
Villanueva still must prove he can play NBA defense. He could also have trouble getting minutes if Bosh, who'll see some time at center, returns to power forward full time. But Villanueva is intent on making the naysayers eat crow. "I definitely feel I have something to prove," he says.
And if he needs a reminder, he won't have to look far. His agent saved the paper from that flight to Toronto. It's now hanging in Villanueva's apartment.
An opposing team's scout sizes up the Raptors
"They're headed for a horrible season. Jalen Rose is going to be a headache, and G.M. Rob Babcock has only himself to blame.... When Babcock said this team probably wouldn't show improvement this year, it was one of the most amazing mistakes I've ever seen from an NBA executive. He just gave everybody in that locker room an excuse, starting with Rose. When they lose five in a row, Jalen can say, 'Our G.M. thought we were going to be bad anyway.'... Their key guy is obviously Chris Bosh. He's an excellent finisher in the low post; he's long, strong and wiry, he's unselfish, and he plays his ass off.... Mo Peterson should be a seventh man on a good team, but in Toronto he'll start.... I can see why they traded Rafer Alston to Houston for Mike James, who is a much more solid point guard.... Charlie Villanueva can give them perimeter shooting, but he can't change the game with the three-pointer the way the now-departed Donyell Marshall could.... Rafael Araujo is a strong guy who can be a decent 15-foot shooter, but he's too limited as a rebounder and too slow to be anything more than a backup.... I like Sam Mitchell as a coach more for what he stands for--playing hard all the time--than for the way he coaches, which is by instinct more than by structure."
Last season's record easily could have been worse: In six of Toronto's 33 victories, the Raptors had to overcome deficits of 16 or more points.
Projected Starting Lineup with 2004-05 statistics
Record: 33-49 (T11 in East)
Points scored: 99.7 (7th in NBA)
Points allowed: 101.4 (25th)
Coach: Sam Mitchell
(second season with the Raptors)
BENCH 2004-05 STATS
17.7 ppg6.2 rpg0.91 spg52.9 FG%47.3 3FG%
(R) Rookie (college stats) (r) Rookie (Spanish League stats)
RON TURENNE/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES