Stewart's wood work not limited to court

October 08, 1991|By Sandra McKeeKarl M. Ferron -- Evening Sun Staff | Sandra McKeeKarl M. Ferron -- Evening Sun Staff,Evening Sun Staff

EMMITSBURG -- When Washington Bullets coach Wes Unseld says run, Larry Stewart runs. When Unseld says jump, Stewart jumps and when Unseld says shoot, Stewart doesn't waste any time.

In fact, he does everything the coach asks except talk. Not that Unseld minds.

"He's quiet," Unseld said of the former Coppin State star forward. "I like that. He doesn't say anything. And I like that, too."

Larry Stewart is the Bullets' quiet man, and with few words he is impressing the coaching staff with his ability to listen and perform.

"He can run," continued Unseld, asked what else he liked about the 6-foot-8, 212-pound rookie. "And he has shown some tenacity on the boards."

The Bullets are looking for a small forward who can fill in in the absence of All-Star Bernard King, recovering from knee surgery. Unseld is looking for a player with finesse, who also can run and hit the short jumper and break people down in the halfcourt set.

Fighting for the position is former NBA player Albert King, third-year man Tommy Hammonds, and possibly Ledell Eackles, who could swing to that position, if the Bullets decide to keep an extra guard. All of which means Stewart has his work cut out for him.

But Stewart, who didn't start playing organized basketball until the 11th grade at Dobbins Tech in Philadelphia, isn't put off by the competition.

"I came in here not knowing what to expect," said the 23-year-old. "The first couple days were kind of tough, getting used to the new system and getting my body used to what it has to go through. But I expected the competition. This is the pros. I know everyone in the NBA is bigger, stronger and faster than anyone I've played against before. But I feel comfortable now. I feel like I can handle whatever they throw at me."

He grew up playing on the Philadelphia playgrounds against guys like Hank Gathers, Bo Kimble, Lionel Simmons and Doug Overton. He also grew up taking responsibility for himself. While those other guys played basketball for Dobbins Tech, Stewart spent his afternoons working full time as a carpenter, until all but Overton had graduated and the coach encouraged him to try out.

"Carpentry was my trade at Dobbins, and I really enjoyed carpentry," Stewart said. "I guess I've always liked working with my hands."

His hands have character. The backs of them are knotty and rough with marks left from errant hammer strikes. But the palms are smooth and pliable, perfect for handling elusive basketballs.

"When I was growing up, being a pro was the furthest thing from my mind," he said. "Even when I started to play in the 11th grade I didn't think of it. It wasn't until I was a senior and coaches started recruiting me, that I really started to get serious about the game and working hard at it."

The work paid off at Coppin, where he was twice the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Player of the Year and last season won the McClendon Trophy, given annually to the top player at a historically black college or university.

After that, Stewart has reason to feel comfortable, but, he said, not overconfident.

"Nothing prepares you for this camp," said Stewart. "Just trying to get your body to come here every day is a big achievement. When practice is over [at 1 p.m.], I go back to my room and sleep until about 7. Then I watch a little TV, get something to eat and go back to sleep. It's exhausting."

Last night, the routine was interrupted. He went back to Memorial Gym to walk through six new plays with Unseld.

So far, he has been quietly effective. But that effectiveness has come in training camp, where the coaches are simply running drills, putting in new plays and getting a look at what they've got.

This Sunday, when the Bullets play their first exhibition game in Nassau Coliseum against the New York Knicks, the pressure will on for the first time. That's when Stewart will begin finding out about himself and that's when Unseld will be determining Stewart's chances of making it in the NBA.

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