Jose Araujo's marksmanship a big plus for UNBC men's basketball team
He has played at the international level, against NBA stars.
Jose Araujo's beginnings in basketball weren't nearly as impressive.
Araujo, a 23-year-old shooting guard for the UNBC Northern Timberwolves, tried out for his first real team when he was in Grade 7. But, in a city the size of Toronto, he was up against some serious competition.
When the final roster was posted, his name wasn't on it.
Araujo wasn't taking basketball too seriously at the time. In the following couple of years, his interest in the game grew. Inspired by his older brother and his cousin, he spent hours on the court outside of his apartment building.
Predictably, his street skills grew more and more slick. By the time Araujo hit Grade 9, he was an obvious choice for his school team.
Araujo is now part way through his first season with the Timberwolves and has helped make them one of the best college-level teams in Canada. He's an explosive long-range shooter who's not afraid to take the ball up against anyone. In the B.C. Colleges Athletic Association, he currently ranks seventh in scoring average. His 16.6 points per game have him one spot ahead of his All-Canadian teammate, fellow guard Inderbir Gill, who is operating at a 16.3 points-per-game clip.
"He's a big-time player," Gill said of Araujo, who spent two previous seasons with the Humber College Hawks of Toronto.
"He's a veteran player and he knows how to get his own shot. He brings leadership on the court and it's just great to have him on the team. Credit goes to coach (Mike) Raimbault for bringing him out here all the way from Toronto. I love to play with him. It's so fun and it's so easy, too. Every time someone leaves him open, you already know (the ball's) going in. And it helps me out too just because his (defender) can't help (check anyone else) and that creates lanes for me to drive, and for all our guards."
Araujo was born in Jiquilisco, El Salvador, and moved to Toronto when he was two. Over the years, his family has made several trips back to the homeland. During one of those journeys, five years ago, Araujo was put in contact with the head coach of El Salvador's national team.
"He wanted to see me play, see what I had and what I could offer, so he put me through some workouts with some other individuals over there," Araujo said. "He liked what he saw. By that time, I was 18, I believe. He was telling me I was up-and-coming and he didn't want to lose contact with me. He wanted me to stay there and play but I wanted to come back and do schooling and all that."
Still, the lines of communication remained open. And, two years ago, Araujo got a call to join Team El Salvador for the international Centrobasket championship in Mexico. In that event, he played against current NBA players, including Francisco Garcia of the Sacramento Kings and Al Horford of the Atlanta Hawks.
Last summer, Araujo once again suited up for El Salvador, this time in the Central American championship. Playing against guys who collect NBA paycheques was a thrilling and educational experience.
"(The NBA players) are smooth," Araujo said. "They're more confident."
According to Araujo, basketball in the BCCAA isn't radically different from the quality of ball at the international level.
"When you play against pro players you can tell the difference but, playing here, we're not that far off," he said. "You notice a difference but it's not a huge gap."
Araujo helped Humber win the Ontario provincial title in 2005-06, his rookie college season. The Hawks went on to finish fourth at nationals.
Based on what he has seen so far this season, Araujo said the current T-wolves -- who are ranked third in Canada -- are superior to those Hawks.
"This group is similar but better than the group that we had," he said. "You just feel it in the air. When you're at practice, it's intense. It's the same environment but I feel like we're more connected in this group than when I was at Humber."
Araujo played half of a second season with the Hawks and then spent a period of time away from college basketball. When he decided the time was right to resume post-secondary hoops, he was wooed by several coaches. He liked what he heard from Raimbault and also saw UNBC as a good academic option. Araujo is now enrolled in a two-year social work program at the school.
One other major factor also helped to coax Araujo west -- the support the Timberwolves enjoyed from their fans when the team hosted the 2009 national championship tournament.
"Last year at nationals, I wanted to come out but they were broadcasting (the games) online so I was watching it and I saw that (the team) had a sellout crowd," he said. "The community supports the program and you can never go wrong with that."
The Timberwolves, holders of a 6-1 record, resume their season Friday and Saturday in Victoria against the Camosun College Chargers. UNBC's next home games are Jan. 22-23 against the Kwantlen Eagles.
League games are important, of course. But, ultimately, the T-wolves have their eyes on bigger prizes and Araujo sees no reason why they can't grab them.
"If we're all on the same page and we show up to play every night and work on the details that we need to work on -- most importantly, defence -- I think that we have a really good shot at contending not only for a provincial championship but also a national championship," he said.