For a change, Bullets give fans something to cheer

Phil Jackman

July 01, 1993|By Phil Jackman

LANDOVER -- Wes Unseld allowed himself about a minute to gather in all that had happened in the first half-hour of the NBA draft last night and declared, "We've definitely improved."

So it wasn't a joyous declaration and a suggestion to the fans assembled to start ordering up playoff tickets. But coming from the coach of the Washington Bullets, who often gives the impression he's in a witness protection program, it was a definite thumbs up.

"Look at it this way," said the team's general manager John Nash. "We've added a player. We gave up Harvey Grant [in trade], but we've got Kevin Duckworth [in return] and now Calbert Cheaney."

Pretty much as expected, Washington landed Indiana's College

Player of the Year, selecting sixth, and, surprisingly, the choice was met with strong approval by their fans.

"They're cheering out there," more than one Bullets official was heard to exclaim after the door of the draft strategy room was opened to check out the reaction in the main arena. Over the years and with good reason, draftniks had been known to give the club a hard time over its picks.

While everyone else was eager to speculate on just how Cheaney would fit into the team scheme, Unseld was quick to assume a "wait and see" attitude. This, of course, is no fun when a team is coming off a 22-60 season, the fourth straight year of losing 50 or more games.

The coach did allow that he was eager "to sit down [today] and look at what works for Cheaney along with Duckworth, Pervis [Ellison], Googs [Tom Gugliotta] and Michael [Adams]."

Recall, it was late last season when Unseld indicated the team's plight came down to numbers, the Bullets simply not having enough quality players to compete night after night in the NBA.

Cheaney, who took his degree from Indiana about a month ago, which fits in nicely with the team's "Stay in School" program, was one of just three players brought in by the Bullets for a physical, workouts and psychological testing. He passed all aspects impressively enough so that Nash never really considered what he described as "serious offers" for the pick.

As for what the team expects out of the 6-foot-7, 215-pound swingman, the general manager said, "if he can start and contribute to a winning team, you've got yourself a good [No. 6] pick."

Cheaney projects as both a scoring guard and a small forward, the player himself explaining, "I think I can do both equally well since I'll probably be able to out-quick a lot of the forwards and post up the guards."

That he put in four years of boot camp serving under "The General," Indiana coach Bob Knight, indicates Cheaney probably knows the game inside and out. And he theorized this probably swayed the team to select him (ahead of Rodney Rogers of Wake Forest):

"I think they probably saw in me a willingness to compete and to win at all costs. And that I possess an all-around game, going both inside and outside."

Nash couldn't have put it better himself.

With the 30th pick and after keeping their fingers crossed for a couple of hours, the Bullets latched onto a latter day "Ambling Alp (Primo Carnera)", Gheorghe Muresan.

The 7-7, 315-pound Romanian played in the French League last year and made a splash in the postseason by averaging 17 points and nine rebounds in the European Championships.

In all probability, Muresan, just 22 years old, will spend another year playing ball in Europe. During that time, Nash said, "he will very definitely build up some value because he does have some skills."

He also has some health problems and is scheduled to have an operation in France to correct an over-active pituitary gland in a week.

The Bullets, who swapped one of their three second-round selections to New Jersey for future considerations, took 6-9 Conrad McRae of Syracuse with the 38th pick.

Nash described McRae as a "tough kid" with rebounding and shot-blocking skills, later changing the tough to "mean. We've got a lot of nice guys around here, so we need a meanie. Actually, with a 38th pick, you're looking for a guy who might be able to make your ballclub. This guy has a chance."

Unseld thought back to his undersized front line of a couple of months ago and a faint smile crossed his lips as he thought

about Duckworth, McRae and the 7-7 Romanian project. "We'll be better. How much I don't know. It depends on how well the guys play and how much we can get out of them."

Hey, at least it's something.

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