In the four years since moving from his native Brazil to the United States to pursue his basketball dreams, Rafael Araujo has shocked and surprised people.

He'll get a chance to continue his surprising basketball progress at the professional level when the 6-foot-11, 290-pound former Brigham Young center suits up next season for the Toronto Raptors. A big step, and a long ways away, from his days as a youth playing soccer in his native land in the southern hemisphere.

His selection at No. 8 in the first round Thursday certainly shocked most NBA draft prognosticators, who predicted the 2004 co-MVP of the Mountain West Conference as a mid-to-late first round selection. Most mock drafts had him going at No. 15 to Boston or No. 16 to Utah. Some had Seattle taking him with the No. 12 pick. Very few had him going any higher.

The draft analysts at ESPN were shocked when NBA commissioner David Stern announced Araujo's name, calling him the first "surprise" pick of the first round. Analyst Jay Bilas said Toronto taking Araujo was shocking. He called Araujo a physical player and a good passer, but not a good post player and a subpar defender who plays below the rim.

"He's not a finisher in traffic," Bilas said.

The pick, however, didn't surprise the coaching staff at BYU, who have had recent discussions with Toronto officials about Araujo's game and character.

"Obviously they're looking for a player like him and we knew they liked him," Cougars assistant coach Dave Rose said. "We're excited for him and think Toronto is a good place for him to start his professional career. The only bad thing is we won't get a chance out here to see him play much now."

Not all scouts share Bilas' skepticism. Araujo's stock rose significantly over the past several weeks. Some compare his game to that of former Portland Trailblazers center Arvyda Sabonis — a good passer, good shooter, solid rebounder and smart player. Utah Jazz owner Larry H. Miller said last week that the Jazz would take him if he was available at No. 14. Guess we'll never know.

"I think he'll actually be a better player in the NBA than he was in college," Rose said. "He's physical and has an NBA body. The pro game suits his style of play a little more than the college game."

With good big men scarce, Araujo should get significant playing time as a rookie — especially since his best characteristic is his knack for steady improvement and his mature work ethic. Avoiding foul trouble could be his biggest obstacle, as it was in college.

"I think it will be a mental thing for him. Once he gets used to the game up there, I expect he'll contribute and get the opportunity to play," Rose said.

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One huge benefit of getting picked higher than projected is the money Araujo will earn. Had he been picked midway through the first round he would have earned about $1 million his rookie season. As the No. 8 selection, however, his rookie contract will pay him almost $1.7 million the first year, $1.8 million the second year and $1.9 million in his third season.

Araujo, who turns 24 on Aug. 12, was in New York with his wife Cheyenne and their 2-month-old daughter for Thursday's draft.


E-mail: jimr@desnews.com