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Araujo still physical, trying to learn how to be productive, too

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Two years and a few thousand bruises later, not all that much has changed for Rafael Araujo. Tattoos still snake down his arms and across his back like petroglyphs on a rock wall. His face still carries a slightly petulant look.

It's true he's 20 or so chiseled pounds lighter than when he played at BYU, but his game is much the same. He remains a rhino in a phone booth. Put on your crash helmet and mouth guard — and maybe an umpire's chest protector while you're at it. "Hafa" is in the house.

Now a member of the Jazz, Araujo is playing in the Rocky Mountain Revue, thanks to a summer trade that delivered him from Toronto.

He still treats the court like a wrestling ring. And he continues to leave games early, thanks to one kind of foul or another.

"I'm a nice guy," he amiably protests to reporters.

Araujo wasted no time getting back to the business of mayhem this week. In Friday night's Rocky Mountain Revue opener he was ejected for committing two flagrant fouls. Saturday, in a loss to Philadelphia, he fouled out in the fourth quarter.

Doesn't he know they don't award points for a takedown?

Araujo actually dialed down his physical play a bit on the second night. Friday he was ejected after grabbing Atlanta's Marvin Williams by the shirt and throwing him down like a rag doll. Saturday there were no flagrant fouls, but plenty of others. For instance, the driving shot he attempted in the first quarter, plowing over Philadelphia's Steven Smith and sending him skidding along the floor. He got away with a knee to the stomach of Harold Jamison in the second quarter, but was whistled in the third quarter after whacking Ivan McFarlin. In the final period he faked, started a drive, and knocked a defender to the floor for infraction No. 5.

A couple of times he bowled over his own players, too, under the basket.

He's in an ongoing struggle to learn when to use force - and how much.

"His energy level is terrific," offers Jazz assistant coach Scott Layden, when asked about Araujo's physical play.

That energy has been an ongoing blessing and curse for Araujo.

A latecomer to basketball, he quickly learned he could use his bulk, first in junior college, then at BYU. Trouble was, he couldn't seem to stay out of, well, trouble. Near the end of his college career he was a marked man.

In the 2004 Mountain West Conference tournament, he grabbed a rebound and was wrapped up by two UNLV opponents. He threw a wicked elbow to clear space and followed with a glancing punch off an opponent's head.

It might have been an unintended reaction to heated play. Or it could have been a deliberate attempt to rearrange his foe's nose.

Araujo ended up being issued a public warning by the league.

Then there was the game against Air Force that he bloodied the mouth of Air Force's A.J. Kuhle, who had to leave temporarily. And the elbow to the neck of Utah's Nick Jacobson, resulting in a flagrant foul.

He was as dainty as a Brahma bull and twice as ornery.

Before Araujo had played a regular-season game in the NBA he was making news for his physical play. In an exhibition game in 2004, he committed a hard foul on Denver's Bryon Russell, who had to be restrained by teammates.

First week on the job and already Hafa was making enemies.

The trick for the Jazz now is to change him from a bruising player into a smart, bruising player. The Brazil native still doesn't have a lot of basketball experience. He still makes mistakes, whether it's shooting ill-advised long shots with too much time on the clock, fouling opposing guards in the open court, or throwing elbows indiscriminately.

"I'm going to keep playing the same way — physical," said Araujo, Saturday night. "I can't just change my game.

"I never played dirty. If I foul, it's giving a hard foul for the team. It's not a bad reputation I have, it's a physical reputation."

If only he can convince the referees.

E-mail: rock@desnews.com