Delonte Taylor first drew the attention of the Washington Bullets' coaches two years ago, when he paid his admission to a tryout camp.
After watching Taylor, a 6-foot-3 guard, make the one-on-one moves that have made him the scourge of the summer leagues here, Coach Gene Shue said to assistant Bernie Bickerstaff, "Let's remember to invite him to training camp."
They forgot and Taylor went to work as an apprentice auto mechanic in his uncle's repair shop in Capitol Heights. He also played in the Urban Coalition League and, as fate would have it, Shue was in attendance the night last summer Taylor scored 48 points against the Bullets.
"Who is that guy?" Shue asked Bickerstaff.
"You've seen him before," Bickerstaff replied. "We were going to invite him to training camp last year."
This year the Bullets signed Taylor, who grew up in Northeast Washington and says he developed his moves on the playgrounds. Basketball has taken him from Carroll to Wilson high schools, from Texas Christian University to San Diego City College to North Texas State, from the San Antonio Spurs to the Continental Basketball Association and, finally, to the Bullets.
"We didn't have anyone who could stop him," said Campy Russell, a veteran pro forward who played for the Bullets last summer. "The question is, can he play in a structured game."
The question is being answered in training camp at Fort Meade, and the Bullets still have trouble stopping Taylor. He has that knack of getting open for his quick-release, left-handed jump shot. But his chances of making the team are similar to those of a field horse winning the Kentucky Derby. As Shue says, "It's a numbers game."
A year ago, when Shue forgot to invite Taylor to training camp, his chances of making the team as the second relatively short guard (Frank Johnson was the other) would have been better. This year, Taylor likely would have to beat out either Johnson or Gus Williams to make the 12-man roster. Not likely.
For Taylor, an affable fellow who resembles former Georgetown guard John Duren, basketball has been a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
At Carroll High School, he played three seasons with all-Met Billy Bryant. Citing personal reasons, he transferred to Wilson for his senior season. From there, he says a recruiter from TCU told him he would be on the ground floor of a rebuilding program. So off he went to Texas, only to be disappointed.
A friend helped him transfer to San Diego City College, a two-year school at which Marty Blake, the guru of NBA scouts, touted him as one of the best six or seven shooting JuCo guards in America. He was heavily recruited and decided to return to Texas, because he says he liked the party life at North Texas State.
The San Antonio Spurs drafted him in the seventh round in 1982. "Their picking me was a mistake," he recalled. "They found out I was the best player they had drafted. I averaged 27 points a game in training camp, but they had only one spot left, and they kept their No. 1 draft choice. He already had a no-cut, so I had to go to the CBA."
The town was Lima, Ohio, and the team was the Ohio Mixers. "I did pretty good, but I only stayed a half a year," Taylor said. "It was a bad situation . . . where I felt like I couldn't advance. They were running different players in and out every week.
"We didn't win hardly any games. It was just one of those bad situations. I had an offer to go over to Italy, and I declined. That was a mistake also. I had a $60,000 deal. Can you believe that?"
Then, in 1983, after paying his way to two other tryout camps, Taylor paid $125 for one at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. In addition to NBA coaches such as Shue and Bickerstaff, the camp served as a placement service for European leagues. But, according to Taylor, the European teams were interested in big men this time.
So he came home, worked in his uncle's automobile repair shop and honed his skills on the playgrounds, averaging 37 points a game in the summer of '83 and 33 points a game last summer in the Urban Coalition League. "I still felt like I had the ability to play with anybody," he said.
Now he has the opportunity, too.
Trainer John Lally became ill and missed both workouts yesterday. With no one to tape ankles in the morning, Shue spent those two hours working on things that did not require full speed. A substitute trainer was available to tape ankles in the afternoon to tape ankles.