By now most Raptor fans know that Charlie Villanueva finished as the runner-up to this year's rookie of the year, Chris Paul. In fact since mid-season this has seemed like a bit of a foregone conclusion. However let's turn back the clock to last summer, prior to the NBA draft in which these players were chosen. Would anyone have imagined Villanueva having the season he did? On most experts' lists he wasn't close to being tagged to have such a season and no one had him in the running for the rookie of the year award!
Even after watching Villanueva for a year, thinking back, I'm still blown away by what he accomplished this season. After being villified for being taken as the seventh pick by the Raptors, CV Smooth went on to have an extraordinary rookie season not only surpassing all expectations but creating a whole new set thanks to his promising play in conjunction with Chris Bosh. I was quick to dismiss the pick as well admittedly, wanting to see Danny Granger in purple so badly. I had watched Villanueva a lot in college and while he definitely had the tools to be a succesful NBA player, I, like many, questioned his desire and worried about the repeated benchings he had been subject to late in games by coach Jim Calhoun for defensive reasons.
However it was obvious looking back now that Villanueva recognized these issues and addressed them the best he could. He also took part in a rigorous pre-draft workout program acknowledging his need to work on things like his defence and quickness to make the jump to the next level. In fact he followed in his UConn teammate Ben Gordon's footsteps in terms of pre-draft training and sure enough it has payed off for both players.
Now it seems that the latest UConn prospect, Rudy Gay, is taking a similar approach to the draft. Interestingly Gay has been dogged by the exact same "intensity and heart" issues as Villanueva and will likely be available wherever the Raptors choose in June. The Raptors could desperately need a player with Gay's athletiscm and scoring ability.
Could lighting strike twice?