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  Sat, June 26, 2004


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You've come a long way, Baby
Brazilian fought language barrier, homesickness at BYU
By BILL HARRIS, TORONTO SUN

Rafael Araujo spent a lot of time locked in his dorm room, homesick and crying. A cynic might suggest such a revelation confirms Araujo is a perfect addition to the Raptors, since anyone who saw the team play during the past couple of seasons battled fits of uncontrollable sobbing.

But Araujo's despair had nothing to do with bad basketball, but rather the loneliness of his personal hoops journey.

Araujo, a 6-foot-11 centre who was selected by the Raptors with the eighth overall pick in the NBA entry draft on Thursday, left his native Brazil four years ago, when he was 19, to play college ball in the United States. He spoke no English.

"When I got to the airport in L.A., I couldn't speak English and I had to get on (a connecting flight)," he said. "The airport in L.A. is huge and I had no idea, everything was new. I had to grab somebody by the arm and say, 'Please, help me.' A Brazilian lady helped me. She was cool about that.

"I had no money, just a little bag and a big dream."

Sounds corny, right? But sometimes the truth is corny.

That's not to say Araujo, a member of the Brazilian national team who will wear No. 55 for the Raptors, is a lock to succeed in the pros. But he has come so far, so fast, you tend to believe him when he says nothing intimidates him anymore.

Like Chris Bosh, whom the Raptors selected in the draft last year, Araujo does not come from an athletic family. He said his parents were supportive when he decided to go to the U.S., because they figured even if the sports thing didn't work out, Rafael would get an education and learn English.

Of course, the brand of English spoken on basketball courts might not apply to other avenues of life. But English words are English words, we suppose.

Despite the initial language barrier, Araujo graduated from Brigham Young University this spring with a degree in recreation management (he spent two years at BYU after two years at Arizona Western College). He credits his wife, Cheyenne, for providing the kick-start to his academic success.

"I met my wife at school," Araujo said. "She used to play volleyball and the volleyball team had a Brazilian girl, so she introduced me to (Cheyenne). I was thinking she was cute. I had to ask my friend, 'How do I say she's cute?' So I told her that, and she got all embarrassed. For six months or so, she helped me with my homework, and we fell in love."

Rafael and Cheyenne eventually got married and now have a baby daughter, Tais. Throw all that together -- his cultural experiences, his family responsibilities -- and it's clear Araujo is not your typical NBA rookie.

"I'm prepared," he said. "I had four years of college, I'm more mature, I'm married, I have a baby. It makes me more responsible. I think before doing stupid stuff."

However, when Araujo is on the basketball court, he doesn't mind if opponents fret about whether he'll do something, well, stupid. His hero is Karl Malone, who has been accused throughout his lengthy career of being dirty.

"They think I'm a dirty player, but I'm not a dirty player," Araujo said. "I just play physical."

One man's "dirty" is another man's "physical." Either way, Araujo's reputation belies his teenage nickname, "Baby," which he got in Brazil because of his baby face.

"When girls (in the U.S.) called me, 'Baby, Baby,' my wife didn't like that so much," Araujo said. Luckily, his teammates at BYU started to call him "Hoffa," not in tribute to the fallen union leader, but in reference to his first name, the correct pronunciation of which is "ha-fay-el."

However you say his name, Araujo is past the point of culture shock. He got his crying out of the way four years ago.

"Learning English, the different food, I missed my parents, it was tough," Araujo said.

"I would shut the door in my room and cry. 'What am I doing here? I want to go back.' "

As long as he doesn't go through the same routine next fall, both he and the Raptors might come out of this all right.









Do you like the new-look Raptors heading into the 2013-14 NBA season?
  Yes, new GM made great moves
  No, they will still be a terrible team
  Unsure what to make of it


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