EMMITSBURG -- Washington Bullets guard Ledell Eackles doesn't want to talk about his physical condition, but that's what's on most minds as the Bullets prepare for the coming season and this Sunday's exhibition game against New York.
A year ago, the 24-year-old shooting guard held out in a contract dispute, wound up on the "suspended" list for the first 11 games and spent much of the season working on his conditioning. He played in just 67 games, the fewest in his career, averaged 13 points and was less than the effective athlete the Bullets envisioned to replace departed shooting guard Jeff Malone.
Last week, Eackles arrived in camp on time. But while his weight is within 10 pounds of the desired 215 playing weight, assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik said his overall conditioning would rate an "F".
"Yes, Ledell has to lose weight," said Bzdelik. "He'll be much more effective with less weight. But what Ledell and the general public have to understand is that you can't equate weight with being in shape. He has to get his lungs in shape. Weight is only part of it. It's a 24-hour regimen of eating right, getting eight hours sleep a night, working on his endurance, his strength and his skills. It's a complete package. Just reaching 215 pounds, that won't mean he can play 48 minutes. There is no magic number."
The question is: Will Eackles be able to work himself into condition by the time the Bullets open the season at Indiana, Nov. 1?
"You can't cram four or five months of cardiovascular work into three weeks," said Bzdelik. "But if the question is can he improve his conditioning to the point where he can be effective on court -- possibly. It's up to Ledell. Simple as that."
Eackles has been avoiding interviews and he wasn't keen on answering questions yesterday. But there is little doubt he knows what the coaches are thinking about. Asked how he feels about being in camp and what he hopes to accomplish, he ignored the question and went right to the point.
"I don't know what role I'll play on the team yet," he said. "I just wish I was in better shape."
So do the Bullets.