Fiery Skiles looks to ignite Bullets

October 13, 1994|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,Sun Staff Writer

As soon as the rebound dropped into the hands of Don MacLean, Calbert Cheaney was off and running. He knew the outlet pass would wind up in the hands of point guard Scott Skiles, and Cheaney knew his hustle soon would be rewarded.

"He knows how to get you the ball," Cheaney said.

And Skiles would not disappoint in the opening minutes of his first public scrimmage with the Washington Bullets, tossing a three-quarter-court pass that Cheaney caught in stride and finished with a two-hand dunk. It was perfect. The ball never touched the floor.

In an era where the size of players from point guard to power forward is sometimes interchangeable, Scott Skiles is definitely an exception. He's short (listed at 6 feet 1), not particularly quick and lacks the "hops" of today's above-the-rim players.

Still Skiles, through eight NBA seasons, has proved he can play. He's a decent scorer for a point guard (12.9 points over his past five seasons with the Orlando Magic), a good three-point shooter (43.4 percent) and an accurate passer. But above that, what the Bullets like is his feistiness and desire, qualities that have been lacking on the team.

"We acquired him because he has that fiery type of personality that we wanted to direct the team, especially from the point guard position," general manager John Nash said. "As a playmaker, he's going to do a better job than we've had the last few years."

Skiles realizes his burden -- he's being asked to help turn around a team that has suffered five straight 50-loss seasons.

"There's no secret that the Bullets have struggled," Skiles said. "But I think the Bullets are on the verge of becoming a winning team.

"They've made the personnel changes, and changed the whole staff. It's a new look, a new team and they're trying to get out of the doldrums. And I'm going to do my part to help do that."

Just give Skiles a basketball, and he's content. Last week, before the start of camp, he walked into the team's practice facility and began counting heads. Not enough for a game? No problem. Skiles was off to the Naval Academy for some pickup games.

Regardless of the competition, he's a competitor. Even when he returns to his hometown of Plymouth, Ind., and plays pickup games with the high school team there.

"He gets after the kids," said Plymouth coach Jack Edison. "He's telling kids, 'You have to cut here, you need to be there.' He's always coaching."

That on-the-court coaching and his unselfishness are his trademarks. Once Edison, thinking Skiles had set a school record with 53 points, pulled him out of a game with minutes left. The record was 54.

"The next day I apologized -- I told him I blew it," Edison said. "He said, 'I could care less.' "

A week later, Plymouth had a 20-point lead at Penn High School, and Skiles was two points shy of the record. Edison left him in the game.

"He must have come five, six times down court with open shots, and he's passing," Edison said. "I finally pull Scott to the side and tell him to score the darn bucket so I could get him out of the game. He got the record. But he could care less."

After Skiles finished second in the nation in scoring (27.4 ppg) his senior season at Michigan State, the Milwaukee Bucks drafted him with the 22nd pick of the 1986 draft. But a herniated disk limited him to 13 games his rookie season. He was traded to the Indiana Pacers, where, after two injury-prone seasons, he became expendable.

If not for NBA expansion in the 1989-90 season, Skiles' career may have ended. That season, the Magic took him in the expansion draft.

For guys such as Jerry Reynolds, Sidney Green and Dave Corzine, being picked up by the Magic served as an extension of their careers. But it marked the beginning for Skiles.

His first year, he was a part-time starter. In his second season, Skiles set the NBA single-game record for assists (30, against the Denver Nuggets on Dec. 30, 1990). By season's end he averaged 17.2 points and 8.4 assists and was the league's Most Improved Player. "It wasn't until I got a couple of years under my belt playing regularly that people could see what I could do," Skiles said. "You have to understand what it takes physically to be a professional. Once you do that, you can have a good career."

His career was fine in Orlando, where the fans three times voted Skiles the most popular player. But when the Magic traded for Anfernee Hardaway in the 1993 draft, Skiles' days in Orlando were numbered.

This past summer, the Magic needed to create a salary slot to sign Horace Grant. So Skiles and a 1996 first-round pick were traded to the Bullets. He will be missed in Orlando.

"He wanted to play hard all the time, and wanted everyone else to play hard," said Magic assistant coach Tom Sterner. "If he felt people weren't doing that, he wouldn't be afraid to speak his mind."

Skiles starts over with a team that hasn't had a winner since 1986-87. From throwing lob passes to Shaquille O'Neal, to tossing the ball to the raw Gheorghe Muresan.

A big difference.

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