Muresan's Tall Tale Rises Above Fantasy

October 18, 1994|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,Sun Staff Writer

ST. LOUIS -- He's got a wingspan that measures 7 feet, 10 1/2 inches, he stands 7-7 and can dunk a basketball while standing flat-footed. So it really was funny the other night when Washington Bullets center Gheorghe Muresan attacked the basket on a wide-open, two-handed dunk attempt.

He missed.

FTC The crowd at the JAR Arena in Akron, Ohio, on Thursday roared with laughter. But for the Cleveland Cavaliers, there was nothing funny about Muresan's play.

In his preseason debut, Muresan scored 20 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and blocked six shots in 29 minutes. The next night he scored 15 points against the Chicago Bulls. A year ago, Muresan's presence in a preseason game carried with it an air of a sideshow. But entering his second NBA season, Muresan is rapidly earning the respect of opponents.

"He did a tremendous job," Cleveland coach Mike Fratello said. "He's going to be a big-time factor for them."

Added Chicago Bulls assistant coach Jim Cleamons: "He's improved with his ability moving up and down the floor, and he's showing more agility with his feet. There's no doubt he can score, he has a nice touch."

Here's the disclaimer: Muresan's numbers in his first two preseason games came mostly against Cleveland's Greg Dreiling, who, despite his eight NBA seasons, never has been known to have much of a game; and Chicago rookie Kevin Rankin, a 7-footer out of Northwestern.

Still, Muresan's improvement is no fluke. After a trip home to Romania at the end of last season, Muresan returned to the United States and was impressive in a summer league in New York. He spent time at Pete Newell's big-man camp and constantly worked on his game and his conditioning while training at the Bullets' Bowie practice facility.

"The workouts worked a great deal -- I can really feel the difference," Muresan said through his interpreter. "I'd warm up in the morning with [Bullets strength and conditioning coach Dennis Householder], then we'd go through a series of drills to work on my speed. Following that, I would go in the weight room."

The result is Muresan's a little quicker, although it would be a bit much to expect him to fill the lane on a fast break. The weight-room work has added some tone to his leaner frame -- 303 pounds, down from about 330 a year ago.

"It's hard to describe where he is in terms of his progress a year ago," Bullets coach Jim Lynam said of Muresan. "He worked really hard toward this over the summer."

Hard enough for the Bullets to offer Muresan a multi-year contract, giving him the job security he didn't have a year ago, when he came to camp as a project and eventually signed a contract for the NBA minimum.

"I'm much more concentrated on working because I have a contract," said Muresan, idled for several days by tendinitis in his left knee. "Last year, I didn't know what was going to happen. But now knowing, I can concentrate on what I need to do."

He's obviously a bit more confident. When he establishes low post position, Muresan can be heard shouting "hey, hey, hey" as he demands the ball.

Once he gets the ball, he knows what to do with it. Muresan has a soft jumper from the baseline, and hit 13 of 18 shots (72.2 percent) in the first two preseason games. He's a good passer, as evidenced when he took an inbounds pass from Doug Overton and hit the cutting guard with a look-away pass for a layup.

"He's going to be a big-time force, and a lot of teams are going to have to respect him," Overton said.

If he manages to avoid foul trouble (he has a tendency to reach defensively), Muresan should find himself on the court more often than last season, when he averaged 11.6 minutes. When he was threatening to play in Greece, Muresan said he wanted to play more minutes with the Bullets. Although nothing was promised, the increased playing time appears to have been earned.

"On the court, I feel very well adjusted as compared to the first game last season," Muresan said.

Asked whether he felt he could start at center, with Kevin Duckworth coming off a disappointing season, Muresan paused.

"I feel well enough to help the team," was his diplomatic response.

NOTES: Tom Gugliotta and Mitchell Butler both returned to practice yesterday. Gugliotta (dislocated left ring finger) and Butler (sore left knee) missed the first two preseason games. . . . The Bullets will scrimmage at Bowie State College tonight at 7. Admission is $2 with benefits going to the Bowie State Scholarship fund. . . . Butler and former Coppin State star Larry Stewart will be at the Tench-Tilghman Recreation Center in East Baltimore tomorrow at 2 p.m. to dedicate a basketball court renovation.

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