For Bullets' Wallace, it's good riddance to bad rep As rookie forward matures, his game starts to take off

March 20, 1996|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

BOWIE - It was not the kind of attention Washington forward Rasheed Wallace had in mind. The Bullets rookie likes to wear his shorts low as in waist band hanging below the waist. Apparently that fashion statement made its rounds with the NBA officials, and in a game last month referee Dick Bavetta made it a point to give a stern lecture to Wallace about his shorts.

"Obviously somebody at the head [officials] office is watching what I do," Wallace said. "That let's me know they're thinking about me, and I'm just wondering why I'm on their mind."

The "why" is simple. Wallace had picked up a reputation as a complainer during the preseason. His lip service to officials earned him technical fouls early and often, and the 19 Wallace has picked up during the season ranks fourth in the league behind Charles Barkley, Dennis Rodman and Gary Payton.

But, even while he won't come out and admit it, a more mature Wallace has developed as the season has wore on a maturity that coincides with his rapidly improving game. The developments in his maturity and his game have been a big reason why the Bullets still have a shot at a playoff berth with just over a month left in the season.

"I've said for a good stretch that he's been channeling his energy in a much more positive fashion," Bullets coach Jim Lynam said. "That doesn't say that he can't continue to improve; he can and he will. But he's made a lot of progress since the middle of the season."

And that has led fans and opponents and maybe even officials to take more notice of his basketball skills. The 6-foot-10 Wallace won't be anybody's Rookie of the Year, but his 17-point, seven-rebound outing against Utah on Saturday was just the latest demonstration that the former North Carolina star's selection as the fourth pick of last year's draft was not unwarranted.

"Rasheed is at his best when he's active, so he's got to try to block shots, he has to run the floor," Lynam said. "He's a very opportunistic guy in making things happen because of his physical attributes."

Those physical attributes often result in the soaring dunks that have made Wallace a fixture on the nightly NBA highlight reels.

"I would say that everything has gotten better for me, and that's mainly because I worked harder to make things better after the All-Star break," said Wallace, who is averaging 10.1 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. "The team looks to go to me a little more now, and that shows that the coach has confidence in me. That just helps build my self-esteem and self-confidence even more."

And that may have helped with his maturity.

"His demeanor on the court has definitely improved, and he's matured in so many ways," Juwan Howard said. "When the incident happened with the shorts I told Rasheed that I thought it was a stupid rule, but that sometimes you have to abide by the rules even though you disagree with them.

"At the time I told him to pull his shorts up like the ref said, and then just go out and play," Howard added. "If you pull the shorts up without saying anything, the ref sees that you're trying to help him out and then maybe he'll look out for you."

Still, Wallace, who's only 21, doesn't feel he has changed. Or that he's going to change. "I'm doing basically the same things I did before," he said. "I think with all the technicals I get, I'm just getting hounded because of what happened early in the season.

"I don't regret anything I've done. If people want to give me a tech to boost their ego, I don't pay any attention to that. I just go out there and hoop."

Bullets tonight

Opponent: San Antonio Spurs

Site: USAir Arena, Landover

Time: 7: 30

Radio: WWLG (1360 AM), WTEM (570 AM)

Outlook: This is Washington's first game of the season against the Spurs, the second-best team in the Western Conference with a 46-18 record. The Spurs have won 10 straight games and are led by C David Robinson, who is fourth in the league in scoring (25.3 ppg) and second in rebounding (12.3 rpg). The Bullets have won six of their past eight, including wins over Seattle and Utah.

Pub Date: 3/20/96

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