Bullets bypass Monroe, pick Louisville's Smith Cap Centre crowd boos first-round pick

June 27, 1991|By Alan Goldstein and Jerry Bembry | Alan Goldstein and Jerry Bembry,Sun Staff Correspondents

LANDOVER -- The ghosts of Muggsy Bogues and Kenny Green were resurrected at the Capital Centre last night, when Washington Bullets supporters greeted the team's selection of Louisville guard LaBradford Smith with loud disapproval.

The crowd, following the NBA draft on the Capital Centre TelScreen, shouted, "Rodney Monroe" -- the ACC's Player of the Year -- as the Bullets prepared to make the 19th pick in the first round.

But the cheers for Monroe, a native of Hagerstown who starred at North Carolina State, quickly turned to jeers for Smith.

It was reminiscent of the response prompted by the Bullets' selection of Bogues and Green, in 1985 and 1987, respectively. Neither is with the team anymore.

But Smith was the player general manager John Nash and coach Wes Unseld wanted. The consensus among the coaching staff was that Smith was more versatile than Monroe, even though the Wolfpack star scored 700 more points during his college career.

Nash denied that Smith's selection had anything to do with a Louisville connection. Unseld and Bullets center-forward Pervis Ellison, acquired from the Sacramento Kings last season, played at Louisville.

"We got the best player we felt was available at that spot," Nash said. "In fact, before we traded our eighth pick to Denver to get [point guard] Michael Adams, we seriously considered Smith as a possible choice."

Smith said: "It feels good. I'm very happy. I expected to be picked by the Bullets, because I talked to them, they seemed comfortable with me."

Nash suggested that Smith's availability at 19 might have been an oversight by rival scouts.

"I thought Smith might go to Cleveland at 11 or Atlanta at 15," Nash said. "But remember that the 19th pick last year was Dee Brown, and he turned out to be a steal for the Celtics."

Unseld said: "I'm happy, but not ecstatic. You don't expect to get an impact player with the 19th pick, but we believe Smith is a very good player with versatility."

The Bullets had plenty of company in bypassing Monroe, who was not chosen until the Atlanta Hawks claimed him on the second round with the 30th pick overall.

Unseld said that by adding Smith to an already cluttered backcourt, he expects to light a fire under veteran Ledell Eackles, who was bothered by weight problems and inconsistency last season.

"We had a guy last year who had a great opportunity and didn't seize it," said Nash, a thinly veiled reference to Eackles.

Smith also will push A.J. English, a second-round choice last year who showed promise but was faulted for his soft defense.

"Smith can play both guard positions and back up both Michael Adams at the point and Darrell Walker at 2 guard," said assistant coach Bill Blair.

"I would like to play the 2 [shooting guard]," said Smith, who added he thinks he can start as a rookie.

"I'm on the top of my game when I'm on the open court. When I get a person one-on-one, I think that's when I'm hard to stop."

Another Bullets assistant, Jeff Bzdelik, said Monroe, despite his offensive productivity and three-point range, had several offensive flaws.

"I regard him as strictly a catch-and-shoot scorer," said Bzdelik. "He still hasn't developed the one-on-one moves you need in the NBA. Smith can create in the open court. I also think that he has more of a pro body at 6 feet 3 and 200 than Monroe, who weighs only 175."

Smith, 22, started all four seasons for Louisville and ranks as the Cardinals' all-time assists leader (713). The Bay City, Texas, native averaged 16.6 points and shot 48 percent from the field his senior season.

LaBradford Smith at a glance


University of Louisville, 6-3, 200 pounds. . . 16.6 ppg, 4.9 apg

Named to all-tournament team at Orlando Classic. . . . Louisville's all-time leader in assists (713), free-throw percentage (.866) and 3-pointers (131). . . . An explosive leaper who is best in the open court. . . . Twice named Most Outstanding Player of Metro Conference tournament. . . . Had 26 points and 11 assists against UNLV as a senior.

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