Guarded optimism reigns for ex-Terps

NBA: As they face uncertain futures, Steve Blake, Juan Dixon and John Gilchrist are looking for a team to call home.

Pro Basketball

July 21, 2005|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

Steve Blake wonders where his next NBA home will be. So does Juan Dixon, his former backcourt mate with the University of Maryland and the Washington Wizards. Former Terrapins guard John Gilchrist, who recently left Maryland early, after an uneven, three-year stay, just wants to break into the professional ranks.

These days, each of the former Terps is dealing with his own version of career limbo.

Dixon, Maryland's all-time leading scorer, who led the Terps to their only NCAA title in 2002, is an unrestricted free agent after the Wizards declined to pick up the option on his fourth season. Blake, Maryland's ex-point guard who ran the offense in 2002, is a restricted free agent after two seasons with Washington. Gilchrist is trying to land with the Cleveland Cavaliers after failing to get drafted last month.

"I'm a little nervous, a little anxious, a little excited. It's up in the air," said Blake, who recently ran a camp in Germantown. "You realize it definitely is a business. But you have to keep your mind on the game of basketball. I'll be somewhere in the NBA. I just don't know where."

Gilchrist is playing on the Cavs' summer league team. "I have miles to go," he said. "I'm just trying to get better. There's so much to pick up, so much to learn. It's a different game."

Blake, a second-round draft pick in 2003, suffered a right ankle injury that limited him to 44 games in a backup role last season. He could end up with the Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers or Utah Jazz, all teams that have expressed interest to his agent, Joel Bell. Or Blake could return to the Wizards, who have made him a qualifying offer and would automatically retain his services by matching another team's offer.

Dixon, the 17th pick of the 2002 draft, earned about $3.8 million over three years in Washington but lacked a defined role and rarely cracked the starting lineup. He has drawn interest from Miami, the Orlando Magic, Boston Celtics, Seattle SuperSonics and Los Angeles Lakers. His agent, Calvin Andrews, has not ruled out the possibility that Dixon - who did not return phone calls - will return to Washington.

Washington recently lost guard Larry Hughes, who agreed to a deal with Cleveland, leaving the Wizards with two guards under contract in Gilbert Arenas and Jarvis Hayes. The Wizards then agreed in principle to trade forward Kwame Brown to the Lakers for forward Caron Butler and point guard Chucky Atkins.

Dixon, 6 feet 3, averaged 8.2 points on 39.6 percent shooting over three years, including 30.6 percent from three-point range. He also averaged 11.4 points during the Wizards' 10-game playoff run last spring. But Dixon struggled to find consistent minutes in coach Eddie Jordan's rotation. The Wizards passed on his $2.1 million option for the 2005-06 season.

"You've been in the NBA with some stability, then, all of a sudden, you don't know who you'll be playing for or how much money you'll be playing for," Andrews said. "`What city will I be playing in? Do I have to move?' Juan is real anxious. I know he'll land on his feet."

It remains to be seen how much a team will pay for Dixon, who was used in a sort of utility role in the backcourt. He has started only 23 of 186 career games, including four last season.

"Basically, [Dixon] is a two [shooting guard] in a one's [point guard] body," said Kenny Williamson, a scout for the Charlotte Bobcats. "He's shown he can score. He's shown he can make the deep ball. He's certainly a competitor. There will be a place for him in the league. As a starter, I don't know. But he can be a major contributor."

With the league and the players union still working out details of the new collective bargaining agreement, the date that teams could officially sign players, which would have been tomorrow, was pushed back indefinitely.

"Juan obviously is a very good scorer. He's gutsy. There is always a place for a player like Juan in this league," said Ernie Grunfeld, Wizards president of basketball operations. "We've always had high regard for Steve and Juan. They've both shown they can be NBA players. We're going to talk to them at the appropriate time."

As for Blake, 6-3, who has started 15 of 123 career games and averaged 5.3 points and 2.3 assists while playing for the league's minimum salary, there is no doubt about his place on the floor.

"Despite the injuries, Steve established himself as a guy who is a true point guard," Bell said. "Many people I've talked to think he's ready to be an NBA starter. There is a very healthy Blake market."

Gilchrist is tackling more of an uphill climb. After winning the MVP award at the 2004 Atlantic Coast Conference tournament, Gilchrist endured an up-and-down junior year at Maryland, where he and coach Gary Williams clashed. The Terps missed the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1993.

After going undrafted, Gilchrist got his chance with Cleveland, then stumbled early. He showed up late for a team meeting and was benched for the team's first summer league game July 7 in Las Vegas. In five games, Gilchrist has averaged 16.4 minutes, 6.8 points, 2.0 assists and 2.4 turnovers.

"You've got to leave the past in the past. I never look back and say `coulda, woulda, shoulda,'" Gilchrist said. "You go down, you bounce back up. I've got to keep pushing and keep fighting."

Sun staff writer Lem Satterfield contributed to this article.

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