By Frank McLean
11-years ago the Toronto Raptors chose a 20-year old forward from the University of Connecticut with the seventh pick overall in the first round of the NBA draft named Charlie Villanueva.
After one year with the Raptors, Villanueva spent three years with the Milwaukee Bucks and then five more with the Detroit Pistons before ending up with the Dallas Mavericks where he is currently in his second season with the team.
I had a chance to catch up last week with Villanueva when the Mavericks where in Toronto and he told me that after 11-seasons he is happy to be still making a living in the NBA.
“I’m still living my dream. 31-years old, it seems like yesterday drafted and playing for Toronto, time flies. It’s my 11th year in the league and that’s a blessing. There aren’t a lot of guys that can say they played that long.”
When he thinks about the year he spent in Toronto, it was different coming to a new country and there were some little things that were different from the United States.
“Yah I was 20-years old. The currency was different, y’all don’t get ESPN and the cell phones were different.”
He did say he adjusted to life in the great white north and the best thing that happened was that he had son when he was here and the smile lighted up the room when he mentioned him.
This current Mavericks team is an interesting group. The team made a massive wholesale change of the roster in the offseason to compete for a playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Right now the Golden State Warriors are walking away with first overall. Then you have the powerhouse second place San Antonio Spurs, but the third through eighth seeds are wide open. Many experts questioned before the start of the year if the Mavericks had a shot a home court in the first round of the playoffs.
When you talk to Villanueva he disses those doubters.
“A lot of people doubted us with all the changes. We have seven or eight new players, people kind of counted us out. Each and every guy in this locker room believes in themselves and this team and what it is capable of doing.
“Can we make the playoffs? Absolutely we can get the third spot, we are right there. The season is still young we have the ability to get better and see what happens.”
Villanueva does use that magic word chemistry when talking about the Mavericks and that it is the best group of guys he has played with.
“We have a great team, great chemistry the way we bond on and off the court. We have a great group of guys, veteran guys who know how to play and know how to win. We have a leader in Dirk (Nowitzki). He is doing amazing things and he’s leading the pack. Guys are taking his personality the way he does things it’s terrific.
“But it’s a combination of everything, Mark (owner Cuban), Rick (head coach Carlisle) and Dirk. They put this together. This is a great group of guys. It’s the best bunch of teammates I have ever had.”
Villanueva is still making a contribution. He is averaging 11-minutes a game and just under six points a night.
Time will tell if the Mavericks get home court in the first round or make the playoffs for that matter, but one thing is for sure, Villanueva will be part of how their 2015-2016 season ends up.
Veteran journalist Frank McLean has covered nearly every Raptors game in Toronto since their inaugural season at the Skydome back in 1995-96. He has seen it all. The good, the bad and the really bad and he is one of the very few journalists in Toronto that has kept coming back for more.