The Washington Bullets, with the 11th pick in the first round of today's National Basketball Association draft -- their highest pick since 1977, when they took Greg Ballard fourth -- are leaning toward selecting Notre Dame forward Kelly Tripucka.
"We're definitely considering him," Bullet General Manager Bob Ferry said yesterday of the 6-foot-5 Tripucka, whose playing style and determination liken him to Mitch Kupchak.
Ferry said the Bullets also have an interest in -- and a chance at getting, if the draft goes a certain way -- Albert King of Maryland, Rolando Blackman of Kansas State, Gene Banks of Duke, Frank Johnson of Wake Forest and Darnell Valentine of Kansas. King and Blackman most likely will not be available when the Bullets pick.
Tripucka still should be on the board.
Two other players who also interest the Bullets, Orlando Woolridge of Notre Dame and Al Wood of North Carolina, also are expected to be taken earlier.
"We're just getting all of our options together," said Ferry, who met behind closed doors most of the day with scout Bill Gardner, Gene Shue, the head coach, and his assistant, Bernie Bickerstaff. "We just haven't made up our minds and anything can happen by draft time."
The Bullets also have the 35th (obtained yesterday in the trade of Elvin Hayes to Houston), 41st, 44th (picked up yesterday from the New Jersey Nets as part of last year's Roger Phegley-John Williamson trade) and 48th picks, overall.
Barring any last-minute deals, three players who had college eligibility remaining will be the first three selected. Dallas, which won a coin toss with Detroit, wavered between Isiah Thomas and Buck Williams and finally decided on Mark Aguirre of De Paul.
The Detroit Pistons, with the second pick, said they definitely would take Thomas. New Jersey, picking third, will go for Maryland's Williams.
King, who had somewhat of an off season his senior year, still is highly regarded by several teams. He most likely will end up with Atlanta or Kansas City. If he still is there when the Bullets pick, Ferry said he would strongly consider taking King.
The selections get a little complicated after the first three. Chicago, picking fourth, is undecided between Woolridge and Oregon State center Steve Johnson. Seattle has the fifth choice and was sold on Wood until two days ago. The SuperSonics now are leaning toward Woolridge if Chicago doesn't take him.
Atlanta, picking sixth, likes Wood, Johnson, King and Blackman. Kansas City, picking next, likes King, Tripucka and Utah's Danny Vranes. San Diego is sold on power forward Tom Chambers, also of Utah, which leaves Dallas, picking ninth with its second first-round pick, with Blackman or possibly Vranes, also a power forward.
New Jersey has the 10th pick and is interested in a point guard, presumably Frank Johnson or Valentine.The Nets also like the 6-6 Blackman, a big guard, a great deal.
If Blackman is there when the Bullets pick next they probably will take him, but that possibility is unlikely. If Blackman is gone, they are hoping Tripucka still will be available.
No trades were allowed between last midnight and draft time at noon today, but a number of deals could be worked out and then completed after the draft.
In a last-minute deal, the Kansas City Kings received the first-round pick of the Cleveland Cavaliers in return for a pledge not to exercise their right of first refusal concerning forward Scott Wedman's contract.
A proposed last-minute trade that apparently did not materialize had Atlanta being offered Truck Robinson and the 20th pick in the first round by Phoenix for the sixth pick.
The Bucks have been trying for a long time to work out a deal that could get them Steve Johnson. Milwaukee's best chance at getting the 6-10 1/2 center appears to be through Atlanta. If Johnson is available when the Hawks pick, they are contemplating accepting Junior Bridgeman and the Bucks' No. 1 pick (21st overall) in exchange for Johnson.
Tripucka is a son of former Notre Dame and pro football quarterback Frank Tripucka and has three brothers who played college basketball.
He is the fourth-leading scorer in Notre Dame history behind Austin Carr, Adrian Dantley and Tom Hawkins. A four-year starter for the Irish, Tripucka averaged 18.2 points a game and shot 55 percent from the field last season and was a first team all-America.
Tripucka is capable of playing both forward and guard and is a hardnosed physical player coaches love.
The Bullets are opening the draft to the public, free of charge. Doors at the Liberty Bell entrance only will open at 11 a.m.