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Bullets Draft Cheaney, 7-7 Romanian

By David Aldridge
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 1, 1996

The Washington Bullets improved their basketball team last night by taking Indiana all-American forward, Calbert Cheaney, with the sixth pick in the National Basketball Association draft. How much the Bullets improved is the big question.

With their first pick in the second round, 30th overall, the Bullets got a player they've been curious about since last February -- Gheorghe Muresan, a 7-foot-7, 315-pounder from Romania who played in France last season.

In the end, the first five selections of the draft, held at The Palace of Auburn Hills (Mich.), unfolded as the Bullets thought they would. The top four -- Michigan's Chris Webber, Brigham Young's Shawn Bradley, Memphis State's Anfernee Hardaway and Kentucky's Jamal Mashburn -- were taken in that order, leaving Minnesota, picking just ahead of Washington, to take Nevada-Las Vegas guard Isaiah "J.R." Rider.

That left the Bullets with another late bloomer like Tom Gugliotta, taken with the No. 6 pick a year ago.

There is no doubting Cheaney's pedigree. He was the college player of the year in the eyes of numerous award-giving groups. He is the Big Ten's all-time leading scorer, an amazing feat given the team-oriented Indiana offensive system. His shot is unerring -- "he's the best shooter in the draft, a can't-miss," Sacramento director of player personnel Jerry Reynolds said -- and he is an excellent defender.

"As far as I'm concerned, I'm going to play the best I possibly can," said the 6-7, 209-pound Cheaney, who performed well in all of the Bullets' tests in a meeting last week. "I can play {small forward}; I can out-quick those people, but I feel I'm more of an effective player if I play {shooting} guard. I can take them down low and post them up."

Muresan averaged 18.7 points and 10 rebounds for his French team, Pau Orthez. He blocked 71 shots in 25 games last season. He shot 58 percent (203 of 350) from the field, 56 percent (62 of 110) from the free throw line.

The Bullets have only the rights to Muresan, 22. He was supposed to sign a long-term contract with Barcelona of the Spanish ACL League earlier this summer, but after signing a "pre-contract" with Barcelona, a physical examination of Muresan's knees and ankles scared them off. He is still negotiating with Barcelona for a shorter-term deal.

At The Palace of Auburn Hills last night, Muresan told TNT cable through an interpreter, "I have enormous joy to be here and for my country. I'm sure there are many watching television right now. I believe that tomorrow many more children on the street will be bouncing balls. I have come to this country with great hope to play in this association."

Before the draft, the Bullets traded their second second-round pick, 36th overall, to the New Jersey Nets for "future considerations." With their last second-round pick, 38th overall, the Bullets took a chance on Syracuse's Conrad McRae, a 6-10, 222-pound forward who led the Big East in blocked shots (76) and averaged 12.3 points and 6.9 rebounds. He played exceptionally well in the Portsmouth (Va.) predraft invitational tournament and was one of the better big men there.

The big question concerning Cheaney is: Is he a shooting guard or a small forward? The answer: Who knows? The Bullets nonetheless took him over Wake Forest forward Rodney Rogers.

"I think it was pretty evident" the Bullets would take Cheaney, General Manager John Nash said. "Rodney, who is more of a wide-body power forward, wasn't as important to us after the trade {which brought 7-foot center Kevin Duckworth from Portland for Harvey Grant last week} as before the trade."

Cheaney will be in next Tuesday to meet with the Bullets' brass. His attorney and agent is David Falk, who also represents Bradley and Duke guard Bobby Hurley.

If Falk's history is any indication, negotiations could begin quickly and be done quickly. The Bullets have cleared almost $2 million of salary cap room by renouncing the rights to guard Ledell Eackles and, yesterday, to center Charles Jones and guard Andre Turner.

Finding out what the sixth pick made last year will not be a problem, because Washington did that contract -- Gugliotta's. He made $1.25 million in his rookie season and has a seven-year contract with an option year that could run out to $20 million.

"I would never be so presumptuous as to say these negotiations will go smoothly," Nash said. "Perhaps because the negotiations went so badly last season {with Gugliotta exploring European options all summer} he {Falk} may feel he can extract more from us so the Bullets don't look so bad. He told me the other day that Dallas will have to overpay their pick this year to make up for last year" with the Jimmy Jackson holdout.

Cheaney began his Indiana career as an Evansville, Ind., recruiting afterthought of Coach Bob Knight, and then became part of the "Magnificent Seven" Indiana recruiting class of 1989. His game improved through three seasons with the Hoosiers, and when he was left off the developmental team that practiced against the 1992 U.S. men's Olympic basketball team, he got mad.

He took over his senior season, averaging 22.4 points in 35 games and scoring in double figures each time. He scored 30 or more points six times, the last a monstrous 32-point effort against Louisville in the NCAA Midwest regional semifinals. He became more vocal, both to his teammates and the opposition.

"When you're the best player on the team, you have to lead by example, not only by body language but in voice," Cheaney said. "That made me a better player ... just being able to show a little more emotion. When I came into Indiana, I was kind of shy. I really didn't speak up. I was very quiet. I came out of that a little bit as a senior."

© Copyright 1993 The Washington Post

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