EMMITSBURG -- One of the few positives in the first week of Washington Bullets training camp has been the play of rookie guard A.J. English, a second-round draft pick from Virginia Union.
The initial plan for English, National Collegiate Athletic Association Division II Player of the Year after averaging 33.4 points as a senior, was a supporting role to Ledell Eackles, heir apparent to the traded Jeff Malone at shooting guard.
But Eackles' contract stalemate and English's poise and versatility have made coach Wes Unseld reassess the situation. English will get a chance to challenge veteran Steve Colter for the backcourt vacancy while also auditioning as a point guard.
"A.J. handles the ball well, has good court vision and is real aggressive offensively," said assistant coach Bill Blair.
"He's a scorer more than a shooter. A lot of rookies are shy about shooting the ball in camp, but when you've been a scorer all your life, like A.J. has, you know how to get open and get your shot. We still have to see him play against other NBA teams, but, so far, he's done all we've asked of him."
English, who missed yesterday's practice with a bruised left knee, views Eackles' absence as a mixed blessing.
"It helps me, and it hurts me," English said. "If I think about the chance of being a starter, I could begin forcing things and trying to do something exceptional. I have to put it in the back of my mind and try to keep the wheel straight."
He showed flashes of his potential this summer in a tournament with the Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers and Milwaukee Bucks. English led the Bullets rookies and free agents by averaging 25.3 points. He also showed his willingness to find the open man and play tenacious defense.
English exhibited a fighting spirit earlier this week in a shoving match with starting point guard Darrell Walker.
"It was nothing serious, just a typical rookie-veteran VTC confrontation," said English. "Darrell wanted to find how tough I was, but I've never backed down from anyone. I've never been a quitter. Whatever I do, I stick it out. Whatever is coming to me, I earned."
English said he initially was disappointed in being bypassed in the first round of the draft.
"Now, I think I'm in a great situation," he said. "I've got an opportunity to start as a rookie, and there aren't a lot of first-year players who can say that."
NOTES: Forward John Williams remains among the missing. The Bullets will let the NBA security force check into his whereabouts. . . . Power forward Pervis Ellison changed sneaker contracts this year and wound up with sore feet. He had both big toenails removed and sat out the morning drill. . . . Forward Harvey Grant was sidelined with shin splints, and Mark Alarie was recovering from root-canal work. . . . Free-agent guard Tony Harris had a tryout with the New Orleans Saints of the National Football League as a free safety.