By Robert Weiler
SALT LAKE CITY- In the first real surprise draft of the night, Rafael Araujo was selected eighth in the 2004 NBA Draft by the Toronto Raptors Thursday, June 24.
With his wife and baby by his side, Araujo walked onto the platform in Madison Square Gardem, shook NBA Commisioner David Stern”s hand and slipped the Raptors ballcap on his head . The former BYU center became the first Cougar selected in the lottery portion of the draft in more than 10 years.
In a first round filled with eight high school players, the Mountain West Conference Co-Player of the Year was taken at a number many NBA experts and moock drafts did not have him. Many considered him the third-best center in the draft, and was predicted somewhere between No.12 and No.18.
“He”s farther along than most people are,” BYU basketball player Josh Burgess said. “I think he can make a presence right away in the NBA. He”s just so much stronger than everyone else. He knows how to rebound. He knows how to score.”
Araujo is now the fifth player from BYU all-time to be selected in the first round, including Dallas Mavericks center Shawn Bradley, selected second in the 1993 draft, Michael Smith in 1989, Greg Kite in 1983 and Mel Hutchins in 1951.
In an interview with ESPN”s Stuart Scott following the selection, Araujo credited hard work for the chance to play in the NBA.
Diron Ohanian, Araujo”s attorney, said he was not surprised with the early selection.
“We figured it would be somewhere between No. 8 and No. 16,” he said. “It was the in the sweet spot.”
Araujo worked out with Toronto before the draft, and Ohanian said he will fly there tomorrow. He said Toronto was impressed with how he shot the ball and his personality, but hope that he can learn the game from a more defensive standpoint.
“They [Toronto] want to make sure Rafael stays out of foul trouble,” Ohanian said
The 6-foot-11, 290-pound center averaged 18.4 points, 10.1 rebounds and 0.8 blocks last year for the Cougars, helping them earn an at-large berth in the 2004 NCAA Tournament last March. Araujo”s senior season was capped with an AP Honorable Mention All-American selection and Second Team All-America by Basketball Times.
Jeff Wilson, 22, a student at Salt Lake Commuity College and Araujo fan, was out of his seat and cheering when the announcement was made.
“I like his physical play,” he said. “He”s got a big body and lot of college experience, so I think that will help him.”
Araujo will be an immediate help to the Raptors, with Chris Bosh as the only other center on the current roster. Ohanian said Araujo is a likely starter when the season begins.
“They don”t have a true center on the team, so I think there”s a good chance,” Ohanian said.
As a member of the 2002 Brazilian National Team, Araujo was able to get a taste of the NBA, competing against the USA National Team with centers such as Tim Duncan and Jermaine O”Neal and other NBA players representing their home countries. A native of Sao Paulo, Araujo also faced No.2 pick Emeka Okafor last year in the NCAA Tournament.
Locally, the Utah Jazz came into the night with three draft choices in the first round. With the No. 14 and No. 16 pick, the Jazz selected forward Kris Humphries from the University of Minnesota and guard Kirk Snyder from the University of Nevada. At No. 21, the Jazz selected Pavel Podkoizine, a 7-foot-5 center from Varese, Italy, but traded the rights to him soon after to the Dallas Mavericks for a future first-round draft pick.
Prior to the unveiling of the new Jazzmen, Jarron Collins and the Jazz Bear modeled the new Jazz uniforms. The purple, green and gold colors have been replaced with purple, navy blue and silver.
Okafor and No.1 pick Dwight Howard were about the only predictable selections of the night, although the order the two would go was in the aire until the announcement was made. The expansion Charlotte Bobcats made a trade with the Los Angeles Clippers Monday to move into the No. 2 slot.