Cheaney gets shot at living up to reputation

January 19, 1994|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,Staff Writer

In Indiana, he's a legend. Around the NBA, he has name recognition; he's fourth among forwards in the latest All-Star voting, ahead of Dominique Wilkins, Larry Johnson and Horace Grant. They even gave away a life-sized poster of him at a recent Washington Bullets game, which isn't bad for a guy averaging 8.6 points.

Now, Calbert Cheaney gets to show if he can play.

Rex Chapman's gone, and so are his 18.0 points a game -- at

least for 10 weeks, and possibly for the season -- after the shooting guard went down with a dislocated right ankle in Monday's game against the San Antonio Spurs.

"We have to make some adjustments," Bullets coach Wes Unseld said. "And it's going to give some people an opportunity hopefully that they wished for -- although not like this."

Cheaney, the sixth pick in last year's draft out of Indiana, started the first four games of the season at small forward for the $H Bullets. When matchups became a problem because of his size, 6 feet 7, he was replaced in the starting lineup by Don MacLean, who has excelled.

That left Cheaney as a backup shooting guard. It was hard to find minutes behind Chapman, who was having a season worthy of All-Star consideration. Cheaney is averaging 19.6 minutes, shooting 44.4 percent and scoring 8.6 points. As the playing time increases, the Bullets are hoping the points will as well.

"Calbert's only important if he can or cannot do the job," Unseld said.

Cheaney understands his job is not to be another Chapman. This season, Chapman developed into a clutch outside shooter, often taking games over in stretches, as he did against the Los ZTC Angeles Clippers on Saturday, when he scored 14 in the last quarter of Washington's win. Cheaney has yet to develop Chapman's range or Chapman's ability to spot up quickly for a jump shot.

"I'm not going to try to do the things that he did," Cheaney said. "His game and my game are different."

What Cheaney can provide is a slashing style and an aggressive attack to the basket. If he's able to do that successfully, teams will be forced to play off him. That then will provide Cheaney a little more space to shoot the soft jumper that made him a star at Indiana.

"Calbert can shoot the ball," Michael Adams said. "With Rex being out, he's going to get the minutes. Obviously, Calbert's a guy whowants to play. Now, he will have a chance to showcase his talents."

Tom Gugliotta, while saying that the team will miss Chapman, added that players have confidence in Cheaney.

"I think he's very capable of stepping in and doing a good job for us," Gugliotta said. "As long as he lets things come to him -- and not do all the things that Rex was doing -- I think he's going to be all right."

Bullets general manager John Nash said yesterday that the team will wait a couple of days before trying to replace Chapman on the roster.

"We're just going to take a look at our players first," Nash said. "We've got guys like Calbert, Mitchell [Butler] and even Doug [Overton] who can play off guard."

Nash said it was doubtful the Bullets would activate assistant coach Robert Reid, who played 13 years in the league. Speculation began after the Orlando Magic signed assistant coach Tree Rollins to a 10-day contract to fill a roster spot.

"We have 11 guys out here who can get the job done," Reid said, when asked whether he was interested in playing. "We've joked about it, but nothing seriously."

The main man will be Cheaney. And he's looking forward to the opportunity.

"Rex is an excellent player and hard to replace," Cheaney said. "I'll do the best I possibly can, and we'll see what happens."

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