I told Wes he "might be taking a big risk in leaving school this year because nobody knew him. If I had my druthers, he would have stayed at Wisconsin another year because he doesn't represent box-office sales right now. I thought he would have been in the top five draft picks in 1981." -- Bob Woolf, attorney for Wes Matthews
"Wes Matthews was born to play basketball," say Bullet General Manager Bob Ferry, who surprised many basketball observers by making the controversial 6-foot-1 guard from Wisconsin the Bullets' first-round draft choice last month.
At the moment, the Bullets are having some trouble signing Matthews, the 21-year-old Brideport, Conn., native who is now playing on the Bullets' entry in the Urban Coalition summer league.
"I sent Wes down there to play summer league because the Bullets need to see more of him so they can see how valuable he is," said Woolf, his Boston-based attorney. "What they're offering in terms of a contract right now is quite out of line. I'm not satisfied at all. But I'm sure after everybody down there gets to see him, the Bullets will be very fair."
"Right now we're in a very normal stage of negotiations," Ferry said. "I think our suggested offer is fair. Right now, only three of the first 21 draft picks are signed so this is as normal as the other 18 first-round draft picks who haven't yet signed.
Ferry's drafting of Matthews raised many eyebrows around the NBA, only because Matthews had developed a reputation as a problem player, particularly after being involved in a controversy with William (Bo) Ryan, Wisconsin assistant coach, late in the season.
After he was suspended for the final game of the season in which Wisconsin lost by three points to last-place Northwestern, Matthews passed up his final year of eligibility to enter the NBA's college draft.
Matthews, Ryan and Head Coach Bill Cofield have said the one-game suspension had nothing to do with Matthews' departure for the pro ranks and that he had decided before the incident to enter the draft.
"I turned professional because I had nothing else to prove in college basketball," Matthews says.
Woolf, the man who negotiated Larry Bird's contract last year, the highest rookie contract ever in sports, agreed to let Matthews attend the Bullet prerookie camp that began June 1 and lasted four days. The camp allowed Ferry and Coach Gene Shue to evaluate players they hadn't scouted much.
"Without that camp we definitely wouldn't have known enough about Wes to draft him," Ferry said. "Because of it we had more of a book on Wes than any other NBA team."
Two weeks ago Woolf sent Matthews back to Washington to be showcased with the Bullet team that plays each weekend in the Urban Coalition league.
In Coalition games Matthews has dazzled standing-room-only crowds at Dunbar High School with his exceptional quickness and speed. In one game he pleased the crowd with five dunks.
"Of that entire performance, the thing that impressed me most was his excitement and enthusiasm for the game," said Bullet veteran Kevin Grevey. "He seems to bring it on to the rest of the guys on the team. It makes us all work harder," he said.
"This summer league kind of helps you stay in shape and keep your edge," Matthews said."It also helps get some continuity with the other young players who'll be going to camp soon, so we won't be hitting each other in the face with passes and that sort of thing.
"It gradually helps you get adjusted to pro life too. I mean, it's going to be a new experience going back and forth across the country playing every night instead of just Thursdays and Saturday's like in the Big Ten. I'm confident. I'm not scared to death or even nervous. It's just that this is like starting life all over again."
Matthews, who can handle the ball as a playmaker or work for shots without it, may be used as a point guard in the Bullet back court, leaving Grevey free to snipe away from the outside.
He can feint and, with one quick step, move around his man or outrun an opposing player down the court. He's almost a cross between Maurice Cheeks and Gus Williams, his favorite NBA player.
Four NBA general managers and player personnel directors have said that Matthews is as quick as any NBA guard and faster than anybody except Checks.
"He could be the surprise of the draft," said Rod Thorn, Chicago general manager.
While few have doubted Matthews' on-court skills, his attitude and ability to get along amicably with his coaches was said to be a problem at Wisconsin.
One writer who traveled with the team for a Milwaukee paper said "Wes was always the last guy on the bus; always making up illnesses to miss practices and that sort of thing."
"Wes can be a coach's nightmare in that for every good play he produces there's a bad one that costs the team," said another Wisconsin source who saw Matthews play three years.
"One time the behind-the-back pass goes for an assist, the next time it goes into the third row for a turnover. He's got the natural instinct, but I'm not sure he can control a game efficiently like Quinn Buckner.
"At Wisconsin he showed flashes of greatness -- real greatness -- but he never lived up to his potential. I'm not sure whether or not he had an attitude problem, but it doesn't make any differences now because anybody can get along just fine with Gene Shue.
"Before I drafted him, though, I would have checked out thoroughly that incident with Bo Ryan before the Northwestern game."
That incident, according to Matthews, "Was just a crazy thing that happened between me and Coach Ryan during practice the week of the game.We had a disagreement and things like that happen sometimes." Matthews mostly prefers not to talk about his past.
"I decided not to play Wes for disciplinary reasons," Cofield said after the game in Evanston. "Wes wasn't out late drinking or anything like that but what he did was pretty bad in my opinion. I don't ever disclose what it was, though."
Ryan said last week that the incident had been blown way out of proportion by some Midwest basketball writers, none of whom was present when it occurred.
"Here's a guy who is a first-round dreaft pick and people are dwelling on one isolated incident that happened in the past," Ryan said "It's over. It wasn't indicative of Wes' attiude or anything. He's been a great kid.
"I was very impressed with the way he handled his punishment. He sat right next to me on the bench during the Northwestern game and cheered the team on as if nothing had happened. He even handled all the questions about the incident with class. I was proud of him.
"It's time to talk about what Wes does or doesn't do for the Washington Bullets.
Some NBA officials believe Matthews could have done more for himself by playing his fourth year at Wisconsin. For all the talk about Matthews' superior quickness, speed and jumping ability, he was only the third guard selected from his own conference and considered fourth best behind Iowa's Lester, Ohio State's Kelvin Ransey and Indiana freshman Isiah Thomas.
Stu Inman, Portland's player personnel director said, "The book on Wes physically is a great one -- quickness, speed, jumping ability -- straight across the board. If there's a question about Wes it's not playing the full four years in college. Lester and Ransey had more international and tournament experience.
"I think it'll put Wes a little behind Lester and Ramsey in the sophistication area but he'll probably catch up in a year or so," Inman said.
The Bull's Thorn selected Ransey in the first round and then traded him to Portland for Lester before Matthews was chosen.
"The only reason we didn't consider Wes is that we needed a pure point guard and Mathews is a little of both.Washington made a very wise selection. There are no negatives about Wes Matthews at all."
However, Lester's back court mate at Iowa. Kenny Arnold, who played against Matthews three times in two years, said Matthews can be a defensive liability.
But Arnold, one of the Big Ten's best defensive guards, was quick to acknowledge Matthews' offensive prowess.
Not until the Bullets' preseason games begin late in September will the questions about Matthews' playmaking, attitude and defense in the NBA be answered.
For now, Matthews will continue free-lancing in the summer games where defense is a dirty word and the only prevailing attitude is fun.
"You know it's a hell of a thing to be considered one of the best 14 college basketball players in the country," Matthews said.
"Some people have said a lot of things about my style and my attitude. Others said if I got drafted early I'd wind up in the Continental League.
"But I don't want to concentrate on what they said. Playing professional basketball has been a lifelong dream for me. I'm here to prove to myself and the Bullets that I can play with the top guards in the NBA. I'll show them too."