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Araujo looking to step up to the NBA

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BYU's Rafael Araujo puts up a hook shot over Utah's Tim Frost in March 1 game in Provo.

BYU’s Rafael Araujo puts up a hook shot over Utah’s Tim Frost in March 1 game in Provo.

Stuart Johnson, Deseret Morning News

Rafael Araujo proved he's adjustable, a chameleon.

So, when the NBA draft rolls around in June, what's to be expected of the big Brazilian? How good is this guy? And how good may he be at the next level?

The answer may be found in looking at his potential — his best days are ahead of him, he will be a first round draft pick, and he has all the tools to be successful, including attitude.

Since Araujo ended his college season at the NCAA regional in Denver, a check with several NBA scouts and two player personnel types solidified pre-draft reports: The big guy will be a coveted selection.

Last week, BYU head coach Steve Cleveland gave his perspective of why Araujo might succeed in the NBA. Speaking at a team banquet, Cleveland said in more than 26 years coaching at every level, he'd never had an athlete improve in every aspect of his game and life than Araujo had in the two seasons he had him.

Four years ago, Araujo came to the United States and barely knew even a few words of English. A soccer player in Brazil, his exposure to basketball was limited through his teen years. In the course of two years in America, he made a mark at an Arizona community college, earned a degree and transferred to BYU. In two seasons, he adjusted to Division I basketball, improved his language skills, elevated his game and earned his bachelor's degree on time, marching in procession with the Class of 2004 last week.

"I have never had a player improve so much in everything he had before him," Cleveland said. "It hasn't been easy for him but he did it because he works hard, he is a driven person and he sets goals and reaches them."

Araujo's strengths are obvious. At 6-foot-11, 285 pounds, he has God-given natural ability and size to play with the big boys. He's developed a myriad of moves around the basket and can hit the mid-range shot with consistency. He is a weight-room junkie and has developed his body to take and deliver the pounding expected of a big man. He's got an aggressive attitude and is hungry to learn.

That's a guy you can coach to get better.

His weaknesses? He's still learning the game. He makes stupid fouls and can have other miscues. He got in foul trouble in JC and at BYU which limited his defensive progress.

Araujo is in Los Angeles now, working out five hours a day with a personal trainer. He is preparing for the NBA's Chicago pre-draft camp June 7. He knows what is at stake.

"Players in the NBA are as big as I am, and they are superstars. If I'm going to play in the NBA, I have to get in shape, get stronger than I am and continue to improve my game," Araujo said. "I have worked hard all my life. I look forward to Chicago where I can be tested, show my skills. They will be looking at one-on-one, my shooting, my lifting and there will be medical people to examine me.

I look forward to it."

Araujo is aware the Utah Jazz may have a shot at taking him and the idea is appealing.

"The people in the community have been very good to me. They are awesome. If I were to play in Utah, I think that would be great because the fans here know me and have supported and respected me. I feel very comfortable here because it is like my home."

Araujo called Jerry Sloan the "best coach in the NBA" and a person he believes could get the most out of him as a player. "He has proven he can make the best out of his players and shown how he has taken a young team and won on the road and at home. I think he's awesome."

He's saying the right things for the locals.

But the best part of Araujo is something you wouldn't know unless you have been around him. On the surface, because of his "incidents" of elbows and swings this past college season, the easy label is "dirty player."

But get in deep and close and it's obvious the big bruiser Araujo is a very nice, kind, polite guy.

I say that with a caveat: He is not so nice that he'd go fetal if slapped by a Los Angeles Laker. He can go vampire if blood (manhood) is on the line.

Araujo has a child-like fascination for the game. He likes people and laughs easily. When you talk to him, he is excitable. It's still a game to him but he approaches it like work — serious work. He isn't spoiled He is not a complacent person. He has an engine, and it isn't a Yugo.

Who knows if an Araujo-Jazz marriage is in the works, but it wouldn't be a bad hookup. The Jazz have done worse. Araujo doesn't have foot problems, he isn't psycho, and he won't play one night and wonder what's not in him on six other evenings of the week.

The last time Araujo played in the Delta Center, it was against Final Four-bound Oklahoma State. He had a career-high 32 points and 17 rebounds.

Somehow, that building brought out the best in this chameleon.


E-mail: dharmon@desnews.com