Front and centre

MIKE KOREEN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:38 AM ET

It is not exactly a battle of the titans.

For the second season in a row, three big men with underwhelming credentials are competing for the Raptors' starting centre job.

Loren Woods, Rafael Araujo and Aaron Williams will begin the three-way tilt tomorrow night when the Raptors play host to the Utah Jazz at the Air Canada Centre in the NBA pre-season opener for both clubs.

Last year, it was Woods, Araujo and Jerome Moiso going at it, with Woods winning the job before having his minutes significantly slashed during the second half of the season.

"We'll try to give them equal minutes and see who does the best job," Raptors coach Sam Mitchell said.

"It's not just going to be predicated on what they do, it's how (the team plays with them). We don't necessarily need a lot of points from that position, we need defence and rebounding from that position. Those are the two main things I'm focusing on from that position."

For the past two seasons, star forward Chris Bosh has had to spend his fair share of time at centre to make up for the team's shortcomings in the middle.

Mitchell said Bosh probably will play some centre this season, though he wants to try to limit his marquee player's time there.

"I think our team will be much better without Chris playing centre," said Woods, the front-runner for the starting role. "He's definitely a lot of problems for most of the (power forwards) in the league with his quickness and his athleticism.

"If Chris doesn't have to play centre, if he doesn't have to bang with the guys that are 50 or 60 pounds heavier than him, it's going to help our team. That's where we come in."

But just what these three can do remains to be seen. Mitchell was asked if it is possible for one of the centres to turn into a Hakeem Olajuwon-type player.

"Does that really ever happen with anybody?" he said.

Araujo, a second-year player, was a foul machine last season; the 6-foot-9 Williams is undersized and was a bit player most of last season; and Woods has been plagued by inconsistency.

"If I knew the answer (to why he has been inconsistent), I'd probably be about $50 million or $60 million dollars richer right now," said the 7-foot-1 Woods, who gained 15 pounds in the off-season and is up to about 275.

As for Bosh, he is prepared to match up against bigger men if he's asked to do so.

"You've got to be smart," he said. "It's that old cliche. Brains over brawn. If a guy plays you physically, that don't mean you play physical back. You just have to be smart. If I'm playing down low, I know I have to use my quickness to deny him the ball and to get around him on offence."


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