SPORTS

This season will be about learning for Raptors rookie Bruno Caboclo

10/09/2014 06:11 EDT | Updated 12/09/2014 05:59 EST
TORONTO - Bruno Caboclo happened to be walking by Will Cherry at practice on Thursday, and casually reached up his right hand to block Cherry's shot.

While the Toronto Raptors rookie is still a huge work in progress, they believe that his physical gifts — including a wing span that's among the biggest in league history — will eventually take him far.

"His corner three is huge. He's ahead of the curve," said Raptors coach Dwane Casey. "Reminds me of Rashard Lewis (who Casey coached at Seattle), and he's a better three-point shooter than Rashard at the same stage. So he's ahead of the curve from that standpoint.

"His biggest issue is, one, the language, and two, the strength factor. Once he gets those down and gets a feel for the NBA game, the sky's the limit for him. There's no question he's going to be a really, really solid NBA player."

Caboclo saw his first NBA action in Toronto's 113-106 loss at Sacramento on Tuesday — hitting both of his three-point attempts and grabbing a couple of rebounds in 15 minutes. He displayed his enviable wingspan when he reached out to swat away an Omri Casspi shot from behind.

He could play Friday when the Raptors host the Boston Celtics in their first pre-season action at the Air Canada Centre.

The 19-year-old Caboclo was the shock of last summer's NBA draft when Raptors GM Masai Ujiri selected the unknown Brazilian with the 20th pick. Caboclo had been mentioned in zero mock drafts. Reporters had to scramble to find information on the youngster. ESPN draft analyst Fran Fraschilla uttered the memorable quote saying Caboclo is "two years away from being two years away."

It was recently revealed that Caboclo was given the lowest rating on the NBA 2K15 video game.

But his physical gifts — things like his length, that can't be taught — are undeniable. The baby-faced forward stands six foot nine, with a freakishly long wing span of seven foot seven. Canadian star Andrew Wiggins, by comparison, is also 6-9, with a seven-foot wingspan.

Former Raptor Mamadou Ndiaye reportedly had an eight-foot-one wingspan — considered among the longest ever — on his seven-foot-four frame.

"He plays the passing lane well, he can change shots at the rim, he's long, can rebound. . . those are qualities that you can obviously see on him," said Raptors all-star DeMar DeRozan.

"He's done great. He's still young out there, he's got a lot to learn, not just with basketball, but just getting comfortable speaking English, learning the language, learning everybody on the team," DeRozan added. "Everybody has that little feeling when they first come into the league, being shy, you don't want to say too much. But he's done great, he's going to be a heck of a talent."

Caboclo, who has two older sisters who grew up playing volleyball, works with an English tutor a couple of days a week, and teammate Greivis Vasquez helps facilitate communication in practice by speaking to Caboclo in Spanish.

The Brazilian conjures memories of a young Jose Calderon, who arrived in Toronto Raptors training camp speaking little English in 2005. Not knowing the word "teammates," Calderon referred to them as his "friends."

Caboclo attempted to talk to reporters after practice on Thursday.

On his NBA debut, he said "It's different, but I feel OK. It's normal, like practice, but it's different."

On his attempts to learn English: "I'm learning to talk to everybody, it's not comfortable. But I try."

And when asked what he plans to do with his first paycheque, he laughed and said "I don't know yet. It's so much money, I save in my account."

Caboclo grew up in Pirapora do Bom Jesus, a tiny town outside of Sao Paolo. Ujiri first took notice when he was named MVP of the annual Basketball Without Borders Tournament. Raptors staff travelled to Brazil several times to scout the young player, and then Ujiri asked Casey to fly to Texas to see him.

He went on to play well for the Raptors during the Summer League in Las Vegas.

Still, as the Raptors continue to remind, he's a work in progress.

"He's growing, he's still growing," Casey said. "This is a great learning year for him, he can watch guys like DeMar in front of him offensively, a guy like James Johnson defensively and see what they're doing, how to play things individually. Main thing with him is just learning, picking up the nuances. Great kid, great learner, but it's just so much to learn as a young kid."

The Raptors' strength and conditioning coach Alex McKechnie pulled Caboclo aside after Thursday's practice. He had him doing a quick pivoting drills with rubber bands attaching his legs and arms.

"He needs to get stronger physically, but the sky's going to be the limit once he does because he's an excellent standstill shooter, but once his strength factor comes in is when he gets in trouble, and that's correctable," Casey said. "It's a learning experience, and all that together is very monumental when you're that young."

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