The name Shaquille O'Neal has become a mantra for coaches and general managers of the downtrodden teams in the National Basketball Association who have designs on LSU's 7-foot sophomore center.
O'Neal, who is averaging 27.6 points, 15.4 rebounds and 5.1 blocks, is considered a franchise player in the mold of the San Antonio Spurs' David Robinson who can turn a non-contender into a title challenger overnight.
Before this season started, the Washington Bullets, who missed the playoffs the past two seasons, were rated one of the favorites to qualify for the 1991 draft lottery and a long-shot chance to pull O'Neal out of the hat.
But now the Bullets find themselves in a Catch-22 situation. They are not good enough to compete consistently with the best teams in the Eastern Conference, but good enough to be one of the eight playoff teams, thereby missing out on the lottery.
A likely scenario is the Bullets' getting eliminated in the first round of the playoffs and winding up with a 13th or 14th draft pick, with no guarantee of obtaining a top pro prospect.
But the Bullets and other borderline teams might feel better knowing O'Neal was remaining at LSU for at least another year. And Marty Blake, supervisor of NBA scouting, says that is a distinct possibility.
"I honestly believe Shaquille's mother won't let him leave school," said Blake. "His mother is very big on education and wants him to graduate. We had that same situation years ago with Patrick Ewing at Georgetown."
Blake said it is more likely that Syracuse junior forward Billy Owens and Georgia Tech sophomore guard Kenny Anderson, both certain lottery selections, will opt to leave school early.
"But finding a franchise player is getting tougher and tougher," Blake said. "Every year, I see a bigger separation in talent between the NBA and colleges. Someone like [Georgetown senior center] Dikembe Mutumbo will be a great pro, but I think it will take him at least four years to fully develop his skills."
Rating the Rebels: NBC sportscaster Al McGuire is not as high on UNLV power forward Larry Johnson as most NBA scouts, who rank him right behind O'Neal among lottery possibilities.
"I think Johnson will have trouble in the pros because his big body will be neutralized," said McGuire. "Everyone is strong in the pros. But the only guy who had a distinct advantage was Wilt Chamberlain, who was the strongest guy ever. I actually think [UNLV forward] Stacy Augmon will be a better pro than Johnson."
Questioned about Anderson, McGuire said: "He needs to mature, but after four or five years in the NBA, he could be the best point guard ever."
Dull Clippers: Coach Mike Schuler is not about to take the blame for the erratic play of his sixth-place Los Angeles Clippers, still awaiting the return of shooting guard Ron Harper.
Said Schuler: "I'm not going to be the scapegoat for this. The thing I can't give the players is the desire, intensity or pride to play. They have to determine whether winning is that important to them."
Hot on Rod: San Antonio coach Larry Brown laughed at published rumors that he was considering trading point guard Rod Strickland back to the New York Knicks.
"Rod will be here forever," Brown said. "I've always said you have to have a quality center and a point guard, and now we have both in David Robinson and Strickland. Rod is a little lax about some of his responsibilities, but never about winning."
But Strickland, earning only $325,000 this year, could make the Spurs squirm as a restricted free agent next season.
Winter chill: Cleveland Cavaliers forward John "Hot Rod" Williams rejected the team's overtures to defer some of his $5 million-a-year salary.
"The team has already tried to trade me this year, so why should I change my contract?" he asked. "They tried to scare me by threatening to trade me to Minnesota, but I already own a winter coat to survive in Ohio."
Motta of patience: Sacramento Kings veterans Antoine Carr and Wayman Tisdale talked Dick Motta out of quitting as coach after his last-place Kings scored only 59 points in loss to the Charlotte Hornets earlier this month. Said Motta: "I signed for three years. I told myself if I can't make this team respectable by the end of next season, I'm not doing my job."