Len Elmore heard all the pre-game hoopla over the return of former Maryland stars Buck Williams and Albert King and wondered if anyone would remember another old Terp standout when he showed up last night at Capital Centre.
The 1974 graduate has been bouncing around professional basketball for eight years, starting with the old American Basketball Association. He was what someone had in mind when the phrase was coined, "For every backup center, there's a backup center."
Although his career scoring average is 4.2, although he's had two knee operations, although he rarely starts a game, Elmore always has earned a living and deep down inside, he's kept the confidence required to survive in the NBA.
Spurred on by the enthusiastic cheering of Maryland fans among the crowd of 10,387, Elmore proved you can come home by finishing with 23 points and 11 rebounds to help New Jersey beat the Bullets, 114-108.
By making seven of 10 field goal attempts and nine of 10 free throws, Elmore matched the highest point total of his career. His rebound total was his best of the season.
"Lenny must have thought he was back at Cole Field House," said an admiring Albert King, who started his first game and also had his best scoring night as a professional with 20 points. "Everybody was talking about Buck and Albert and nobody mentioned him. Guess he wanted people to remember him."
In addition to King's contribution, and 14 points and 13 rebounds from Buck Williams, Elmore got plenty of help from Ray Williams, who scored a season-high 32 points.
Bullets Coach Gene Shue, also a former Maryland star, says he won't forget Elmore, not after the 6-foot-9 center made four free throws in the final 64 seconds to keep the Bullets from coming back.
"Lenny played a great game," Shue said. "It wasn't supposed to be like that. Up there, we shut that position down (in the Bullets' 105-90 victory in New Jersey Dec. 26), but tonight he was something, hitting shots from outside like that."
Elmore almost seemed embarrassed by his performance. Certainly he wasn't used to the mob of reporters who surrounded him in the dressing room. It's been a while since he was the center of attraction.
"Where have you guys been?" he asked jokingly before the questions started.
During the playoffs last season, when he was a third-string center for Milwaukee, Elmore admitted that he didn't have much confidence in his shooting because he rarely got an opportunity. He was strictly a role player with the Bucks, but now he's been given an opportunity to be a starter again.
"The type of system we have at New Jersey, everyone gets an opportunity to do everything," he said. "We don't stereotype anybody. If I have an open shot, I'm suppose to take it.
"I'm looking for my shot a little more now," Elmore continued. "Some teams are dropping off me because I'm not known as a shooter and tonight I found some ability I have have lost."
Ray Williams made two free throws to boost the Nets' lead to 110-107, then scored on a 22-footer from the right side with eight seconds to play to ensure the victory.
Williams had to fill a void created when Otis Birdsong came out after four minutes because of a sore knee and didn't return. With Mike O'Koren filling in at the big guard spot, King was given more playing time at forward and Coach Larry Brown said that trend will continue.
The Bullets certainly had every opportunity to win, but they missed too many foul shots down the stretch and also failed to come up with important rebounds.
Shue was in trouble from the start because Spencer Haywood was sidelined with a sore calf. That meant that Jim Chones started and Jeff Ruland (25 points, 15 rebounds) was the only big man on the bench. Rick Mahorn got in early foul trouble, and eventually both Ruland and Chones fouled out, which left the Bullets with only one rebounder at the end. Still, the Bullets led, 92-85, after a three-point play by Don Collins with 7:47 to play and were still in front, 104-101, with 2 1/2 minutes left.
The Nets went ahead, 106-105, on Buck Williams' layup after a rebound on a missed free throw, and the Bullets managed only three free throws after that.