The Washington Bullets, in a surprise move, made 6-foot-2 Wake Forest guard Frank Johnson their first-round selection yesterday in the National Basketball Association draft.
Johnson, the brother of Atlanta Hawk all-star guard Eddie Johnson, was the 11th player picked overall.
The Bullets had three second-round picks -- all acquired through trades -- and used them to take 6-7 Charley Davis of Vanderbilt, 6-8 Claude Gregory of Wisconsin and 6-9 1/2 Steve Lingenfelter of South Dakota State. The Bullets had traded their own second-round pick (the 33rd pick overall), to Golden State last year for Jeff Ruland.
They got Davis with the 35th pick, obtained Monday from Houston, along with a 1983 second-round pick, for Elvin Hayes. They got Gregory, who attended Washington's Coolidge High School, with the 4lst pick overall; it was obtained from San Antonio last season for Dave Corzine. They made Lingenfelter the 44th selection overall, using a draft pick acquired from New Jersey in the Roger Phegley-John Williamson deal of two seasons ago.
The selection of Johnson marks the second straight year the Bullets have small guard. Last year it was Wes Matthews, who was traded to Atlanta for Don Collins during the season.
The Bullets say they aren't taking any risk in drafting Johnson.
"He can't miss being a star in this league," said General Manager, Bob Ferry. "Drafting where we did, we absolutely wanted a player we felt could play right now. We felt we had to come away with that kind of player and not take a chance on someone. When out turn came to pick, Frank Johnson was the surest thing there was left."
Predraft speculation had the Bullets opting for Albert King of Maryland, Rolando Blackman of Kansas State or Kelly Tripucka of Notre Dame.
"We liked Albert and Rolando a great deal, but we realized they just wouldn't be there when we picked," Ferry said, "so we pretty much decided that we'd take Johnson."
Blackman, a 6-6 guard, went to Dallas as the ninth pick and King, 6-6 went to New Jersey 10th, just before the Bullets selected Johnson. Tripucka went to Detroit on the next pick.
Ferry said he is as impressed with Johnson as with any recent Bullet draftee.
"He reminds me a lot of Charles Johnson (no relation)," Ferry said. "He's a loose ball player, a rebounder and a competitor. He also plays excellent full-court defense; he's physical and a great shooter who can play both the point guard or off guard. He's also a leader."
Coach Gene Shue is equally impressed with Johnson, saying he could play alongside or behind Kevin Porter, last year's NBA assist leader.
"I'm not so sure he isn't just as good as Isiah Thomas," said Shue.
This was the first time the Bullets have opened the draft to the public. The selection of Johnson was met mostly be jeers from the crowd of approximately 2,500, which chanted for the Bullets to take Indian's Ray Rolbert or Tripucka.
Johnson was as surprised as the crowd at his selection by the Bullets.
"It was a pleasant surprise, though," Johnson said. "I had talked with Portland, Detroit and New Jersey and I thought I was going to one of them. The Bullets had given no indication that they'd take me."
Johnson said he is looking forward to playing with Porter, noting the difference in their styles.
"I think we can complement each other," Johnson said. "He penetrates looking to dish off and I penetrate and look for the shot."
Johnson averaged 16.2 points and had 182 assists in 29 games last season and was named the outstanding player in the Aloha Classic, considered by many the top collegiate all-star tournament.
He sat out virtually all of the 1979-80 season because of a broken foot and was granted another year of eligibility.
Davis also was injured with tendinitis in his ankle, for most of the 1979-80 season. He was drafted illegally by Los Angeles last year and was put back into the pool this year after playing a fifth season.
Ferry calls Davis "a terrific athlete. Most of the guys we drafted are role players, but he's just a natural talent like Johnson."
Ferry said he has seen Gregory play many times in college and in the Urban Coalition summer league here. "If he works hard he has a chance of making the team," he said. "He's a big forward who could fill a role for us. He could be the big rebounder we need."
Lingenfelter is less well-known, but Ferry calls him multitalented. "He knows how to play. He can shoot and everything."
NBA scout Marty Blake called Lingenfelter "the best big man in small college."
He was dropped from the South Dakota State team during the season, however, for a curfew violation and played in the Philippines.
"I think the Bullets make a good choice in picking him," Blake said. "He could develop into a good backup center or power forward."
The Bullets also had the second pick of the third round, the 48th pick overall, and used it to take 6-3 shooting guard Mike Ferrara of Colgate, who averaged 28.6 points per game last season, second best in the nation.
With the retirement of Wes Unseld and the trade of Hayes to Houston, the Bullets were expected to draft a rebounder with their first pick, "but there weren't any left who we felt could help us as much as Johnson can," said Shue.
"We thought about Herb Williams, but he lacks a few skills. He isn't a good passer or a good ballhandler," Shue said of the 6-l0 Ohio State center, who went to Indiana as the 14th player selected.
Both Ferry and Shue called this a good Bullet draft, but were cautious.
"We're starting from scratch," said Shue. "We're depending on a lot of young talent and potential."