Chapman is confident he can make the most of his fresh start with the Bullets

October 15, 1992|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Staff Writer

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W. VA. — SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. -- Rex Chapman and his wife, Bridget, are expecting the birth of their first child "momentarily."

And the Washington Bullets also are expecting big things of the veteran guard this year after a long summer of anticipation.

Chapman, bothered by a bruised left heel, played only one game for the Bullets after being acquired from the Charlotte Hornets last February for forward Tom Hammonds.

"Rex is not only a key part of our rebuilding plans, but I also see this as a career year for Rex himself," said assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik.

It was Bzdelik's way of saying that Chapman, starting his fifth pro season, still has much to prove since leaving Kentucky after his sophomore year and becoming the eighth player chosen in the 1988 NBA draft by the expansion Hornets.

A trimmed-down 180 pounds, the 6-foot-4 Chapman refers to his new life with the Bullets as "a breath of fresh air."

Reporting to training camp early with the rookies and free agents, Chapman has remained positive despite occasional leg cramps.

"The game is fun again," he said. "On the court, Coach [Wes] Unseld and his staff are strictly business, and we all work hard. But, off the court, the coaches here know how to relieve the tension."

Reminded of his pivotal role in the minds of the Bullets brass, Chapman said: "Sure, I understand the Bullets are expecting big numbers from me, but I don't feel pressured in any way.

"It's a relief not to feel I'm under a microscope like I was at Kentucky and Charlotte, where the basketball team was pretty much the only game in town."

In his two college seasons, Chapman, a native of Owensboro, Ky., was one of the most celebrated players in Wildcats history. The day he first ran on the floor at Rupp Arena, fans unfurled a banner that read, "The Rex Chapman Era Begins."

When Kentucky's basketball program came under NCAA scrutiny, he decided to turn pro.

Great expectations followed Chapman to Charlotte. "I didn't really have a clue as to what the NBA was all about," Chapman said.

Given free rein to shoot, he averaged nearly 16.9 points as a rookie. He led the team in scoring (17.5) the next season before everything began to turn sour.

"It was just a marriage that turned bad," he said. "The team got off to a terrible start last year, and it seemed like all the blame was put on my shoulders."

His playing time diminished considerably, with new head coach Allan Bristow opting for second-year guard Kendall Gill as his starter.

"Kendall is a great player," Chapman said, "but, at the time, I don't think the decision was warranted. I expressed my dissatisfaction and requested a trade."

But Chapman's timing was bad. He sprained his foot in early December and figured his chances of being traded while injured were minimal.

"I guess I was surprised as anyone when the Bullets went ahead with the deal," he said.

After missing his first 30 games with Washington, Chapman made his debut in the season's final game. When he played without pain, it convinced the Bullets he would not need off-season foot surgery.

Chapman voluntarily participated in the Bullets summer minicamp, and Unseld began envisioning the things that Chapman, with his one-on-one skills and passing ability, could lend to the motion offense.

Chapman is now 25, and the Bullets can only hope that his game also has matured to the point where he finally will fulfill all of the expectations.

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