Home ain't so sweet for struggling Araujo

STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:22 AM ET

You know Rafael Araujo heard it, because he looked as if he had just been smacked between the eyes.

Late during a recent game, the Raptors starting centre took a pass in the paint, did not have a clear shot, put the ball on the floor and then turned it over. Another screw up. A fan then yelled: "Hey Araujo! What's it like to be the worst pick in the history of the NBA! You suck!"

Araujo stood still for a moment, looking stunned before snapping out of it.

Having abuse poured on him from the stands is nothing new for the second-year player.

But Araujo receives much more abuse at home, at the normally staid Air Canada Centre, than he does on the road.

Which probably is why his home stats are profoundly worse than they are away.

The word around Raptors headquarters is that Araujo, who was selected eighth overall in 2004, is feeling so much heat at home he is trying to do too much, trying to force the issue, and therefore is out of his element.

"That could be," head coach Sam Mitchell said yesterday. "But I really don't want to say that, because I don't want him to believe that."

Whether he believes it or not, the stats don't lie. In nine games at the ACC, the 6-foot-11 Araujo is averaging 8.6 minutes per game, 1.7 rebounds and 1.3 points and is shooting 40% from the floor.

On the road, where guys usually don't play as well, Araujo is averaging 12.7 minutes in 11 games, 3.1 boards and 4.1 points and is shooting 49%.

Not huge numbers by any means, but drastically better than at home.

So is he a nervous wreck at the ACC?

No one has been abused more around Raptorland for the team's poor showing over the past few seasons than Araujo, with the possible exception of general manager Rob Babcock, who incurred the wrath of Toronto fans by selecting Araujo eighth overall, ahead of rising Philadelphia 76ers star Andre Iguodala.

But as Mitchell pointed out yesterday, it's not the big Brazilian's fault Babcock felt he had more upside than anyone still available in the 2004 draft.

"If someone drafted you eighth overall and wanted to give you big money, would you go up on the podium and say, 'No thanks. I'll wait until somebody drafts me later on?' Of course not," Mitchell said.

The fans aren't booing Araujo at home as loudly as last season, but perhaps they're just beaten down by all the losing. But he still hears it more than Jalen Rose, who is playing very little and struggling in a big way.

Araujo admitted things seem to be easier on the road, but he's not totally convinced that it's because he tries to do too much in an seemingly futile attempt to win over the Toronto faithful.

"There's just a different feel (on the road)," he said. "I try to get into the games at home, try to play as hard as I can. But on the road, if you make mistakes, they let it go.

"But here ..."

Araujo trailed off at that point, perhaps allowing us to finish the thought: Sometimes here they want to ship you back to Brazil, COD.

"I wish the fans could see what we see every day," Mitchell said, of the Araujo saga. "For a 10:30 a.m. practice, this kid is on the floor at 9 o'clock, every day. It's not like this kid doesn't want to be good. He works his tail off. I know everybody wants him to be great right off the top, but some guys take a little bit longer.

"If we brought in a live chicken to practice and told him that he would get better if he chased the chicken around the court, he'd chase the damn chicken. As a coach I'm willing to be patient and the organization is willing to be patient, and it would nice if the fans (would be as well).

"He is getting better."


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