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Sweetney Shows N.Y. How to Play Nice With Others

By Greg Sandoval
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 7, 2005; Page D01

Against a chaotic backdrop of locker-room squabbles, coaching changes and roster shuffles, New York Knicks forward Michael Sweetney can boast three triumphs.

First, Sweetney is one of three holdovers, along with Kurt Thomas and Allan Houston, from the Knicks' opening day roster last season. Secondly, the former Georgetown standout and all-American at Oxon Hill High in Prince George's County says proudly, "I have not gotten into one fight or argument with anyone on the team."

Former Hoya Michael Sweetney has flourished since being named Knicks' starting forward. (Carlos Osorio -- AP)

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A peaceful coexistence with teammates and two years of longevity are what pass for accomplishments these days for the Knicks (25-34), who host the Wizards tomorrow night. The turmoil within the New York franchise has begun to create rifts. One yearlong feud boiled over in January when Marbury and Thomas nearly came to blows following a game against Cleveland, according to the New York Daily News.

But throughout the upheaval, Sweetney has kept his cool. That impressed his coaches, as did his strength, quickness and habit of getting to the free throw line. Two weeks ago, when the Knicks traded center Nazr Mohammed to San Antonio, Sweetney was rewarded with his third personal victory by being named the starting power forward.

Anyone who knows the 6-foot-8 Sweetney won't be surprised that he has avoided confrontations with teammates. In a game in which egos constantly clash, Sweetney appears to be without one. Rarely does he demand the ball, pout about playing time or try to draw attention to himself.

"I'm not like that," said Sweetney, who is averaging about eight points and five rebounds per game this season. "I'm real laid back."

That might be his one problem. He's popular among his teammates, but some would like him to show a little more fire. There are those who wonder if there is too much sweet in Sweetney.

"He's got to be more aggressive," said teammate Jerome Williams, a reserve center-forward and former Hoya. "He's one of those players who has a lot of talent, but he's not sure what to do with it all. He can't be passive. Not in this league. Or he's going to get passed over."

Gentle giants are not what the Knicks are about. They called the Knicks teams of the early 1990s the "Beasts of the East." Patrick Ewing, Charles Oakley and John Starks were anything but demure. They savaged teams with their defense, swatting shots and stealing passes while thwacking anyone who dared drive to the hoop.

But that's not Sweetney's style, he says. Instead of being booed for lacking brashness, Sweetney has begun winning over Knicks fans, says Williams.

"One thing New Yorkers can respect is a guy who comes in and works hard and is effective," Williams said. "As long as he is effective then they won't have any problems."

Since Sweetney became a starter, New York has gone 4-1. During the Knicks' three-game winning streak last week, Sweetney scored 19 points and pulled down 12 rebounds in New York's 117-115 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers.

He almost posted another double-double four days earlier in a win over the Philadelphia 76ers, finishing with 10 points and nine rebounds.

Sweetney, 22, craves the city's approval. He brightens up when he talks about the applause he receives when he checks in or out of games.

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