Araujo isn't ready for prime time

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:18 AM ET

The more time that passes in this young Raptors season -- and the emphasis there is on young -- it gets more and more obvious the team's decade-long search for a legitimate centre is not over.

That isn't any sort of premature dismissal of Rafael Araujo, the 6-foot-11, 280-pounder who was Toronto's first-round draft choice this summer. He has a huge upside, but it's clear he's raw, perhaps even moreso than the Raptors' front office believed when they picked him.

Back in June when Araujo was, to the surprise of many, the eighth player selected in the NBA draft, he was characterized as a big, strong inside force.

On that night, at least, Raptor general manager Mike Babcock was excited about the possibilities Araujo presented.

"We really need some inside strength and he's somebody who's going to help a guy like Chris (Bosh) because he's going to do the dirty work that makes it easier for the other guys," Babcock said.

"He's a bread-and-butter-type player."

More than that, as a four-year college product, Araujo was characterized as a player who should not need years of grooming.

Three weeks into camp, though, it's becoming less and less apparent that Araujo will be a factor this year.

"He's had his good moments and he has had his bad moments, but he's a rookie," coach Sam Mitchell said. "There's a lot of stuff he has got to learn. A lot of stuff has been thrown at him."

Asked if he thought Araujo was going to be a serious contributor this year, Mitchell said it's too early to tell.

"After two games, I don't know," he said.

That shouldn't present a big problem. Everybody knows that only the most special of rookies straight from college are ready to step in and shine, especially at a physically demanding position like centre. One thing is certain: You cannot teach big. And size is Araujo's No. 1 asset.

The real problem resides in the fact that none of the veterans have been very impressive to date.

Jerome Moiso always has been one of those intriguing types of players whose contribution, for some reason is less than the sum of his parts. He started last night's game against Benetton Treviso, a touring Italian team, but lasted only a few minutes. He left with a strained left hamstring.

Donyell Marshall and Chris Bosh shared some time at centre. Araujo and Loren Woods came off the bench in the third quarter. Araujo scored a pair of buckets and picked off five rebounds in seven minutes.

Whether Woods or Moiso are adequate remains to be seen but it would be an absolute shame to have to subject Bosh to the kind of punishment he endured last year. He spent the season giving away 30 and 40 pounds to tough, experienced veterans, showing some serious grit in the process. He's so much more suited as a power forward and could really come into his own at that spot.

The Raptors have waited virtually since their inception for a big presence in the middle of their lineup. Marcus Camby had some potential but that's where it ended. Kevin Willis provided a veteran presence for a time. Hakeem Olajuwan was a very expensive bust. Keon Clark was talented but inconsistent.

It has been a long, long wait. So if it becomes necessary to wait a little longer on Araujo, so be it. But that wait also means more of the same mediocrity in the middle until he's ready.

And don't doubt for a minute that Araujo will get every benefit from management. They have an investment, both in money and credibility.

On draft day, Babcock also asked for patience.

"All I expect and hope from the fans is that they have an open mind and they give not only Rafael, but myself and the new coach, a chance to prove ourselves."

They'll get that consideration for a time. How long remains to be seen.


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