In the mix

Strawberry relies on his defense in his quest for NBA hang time

June 27, 2007|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Sun Reporter

WASHINGTON -- Going from one NBA tryout to the next as he has, the faces and places have been coming at D.J. Strawberry so fast for the past couple of weeks that it took a moment the other day for him to recall just who had given him the best piece of advice he has received recently.

"It was somebody in Phoenix," Strawberry said.

"Was it [Steve] Kerr?" a reporter asked, referring to the Suns' new head of basketball operations.

"He [Kerr] said something, but it was someone else," Strawberry said. "It was the [assistant] coach who used to be with the Clippers," meaning Alvin Gentry.

Though the name of the adviser was a blur, Strawberry, the former Maryland standout, has worn the advice like a badge of honor, as he goes from one arena to the next, trying to make a favorable impression in advance of tomorrow's draft.

"He [Gentry] said, `Don't come out here and worry about scoring. That will come. We like you for your defense. Do what you do best, and that's play defense,'" Strawberry said.

After a two-hour workout before Washington Wizards officials Friday at Verizon Center, Strawberry, a 6-foot-5 guard, repeated the word "defense" over and over to the assembled media as if he needed it to stay alive, or, at the very least, to have a chance to make an NBA roster.

It has been that way, Strawberry said, since he arrived at College Park from his hometown of Corona, Calif., and from Mater Dei High.

"That's exactly how I came to Maryland," Strawberry said. "Nobody really expected me to play that much. I had to find a way to get on the court, and that was on the defensive end. We had a lot of scorers, and I thought if I played some defense and brought something different to the team, then I'd be able to get on the court.

"It [the workouts] is like starting all over again. It's the same process. It's like I'm a freshman again, except I'm a rookie."

As the draft approaches, Strawberry enters with some cachet, beyond that of being the son of former baseball star Darryl Strawberry.

His 14.9 points per game led the Terps and were 11th in the Atlantic Coast Conference last season. He was a second-team All-ACC selection and was named to the league's All-Defensive team, with solid combination guard skills, placing fourth in steals, as well as averaging 3.5 assists and 4.4 rebounds.

Still, there are enough questions about Strawberry's offense, especially his shot, that he is viewed as a potential late second-round choice in most mock drafts.

Strawberry shot 47.7 percent from the field for the season, but in Maryland's last three games - an inexplicable loss to Miami in the opening game of the ACC tournament and its two NCAA tournament contests - he shot 12-for-39 from the field and 2-for-10 from three-point range.

That's why he has been trying to show officials of the 11 teams he had auditioned for as of Friday - with three more scheduled through today - that he can be a solid offensive performer.

"Everybody that I've talked to says that the way I'm going to get on the floor is defensively and the way that I'm going to stay on the floor is my ability to hit open shots," Strawberry said. "That's what I've been working on, just putting up a lot of shots and being able to hit open shots and still be able to maintain that defensive edge that I have over everybody."

In that vein, Strawberry said he is modeling his game on those of the San Antonio Spurs' Bruce Bowen and Raja Bell of the Suns, players who earned their way onto NBA rosters with their ability to play solid on-the-ball defense.

Bell and Bowen, both named to the NBA's All-Defensive team this past season, have stayed in the league by making the opposition pay on the offensive end by sticking jumpers when left open. Both players shot at least 38 percent from three-point range this past season.

"I like how they're just always in the right place," Strawberry said. "It just seems like they're always on their men, always in their man's face, never giving them anything easy. That's what I pride myself on, making it hard on other people, like Kobe Bryant. I want to get my chance at making their night as long as possible. I think I can do that in this league."

Still, it took Bowen, an 11-year veteran, five years and three teams before he became a regular starter in the NBA. Bell, meanwhile, has never spent more than two seasons with any of the four teams he has played for in his seven NBA seasons.

The lesson Strawberry takes from Bell and Bowen, however, is that they eventually made it. Neither was drafted, a fate that might befall Strawberry as well, but they didn't stop, and neither will he.

"You definitely have to keep going," Strawberry said. "Not everywhere is going to be your style of play, and you're not going to fit in with every team. But when you do find that right team, you're going to be there for a while. That's how they are right now."

milton.kent@baltsun.com

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