Washington Bullets Coach Gene Shue, whose team does not play again until Tuesday, said yesterday he will spend much of the practice time until then working 7-foot-7 rookie center Manute Bol more into the team's offense.
Bol was thrust into the starting lineup Thursday night because all-star center Jeff Ruland suffered a chip fracture in his right ankle a night earlier. Bol's performance that night left much of the NBA agog. In 48 minutes, he scored 18 points, blocked a team-record 12 shots, had nine rebounds and caused the Milwaukee Bucks to alter innumerable shots in Washington's 110-108 overtime victory.
"I'd say I'm happy but not really surprised," General Manager Bob Ferry said from Los Angeles, where he is on a scouting trip. "The things he's doing well now, I felt he could do right away. He can do that. That's natural for him."
Shue and Ferry watched Bol a great deal in the U.S. Basketball League last summer, and they tried to trade up to get a second selection in the first round of the NBA draft, according to Shue. The deal fell through at the last moment, but the Bullets still were able to take him in the second round as the 31st pick overall.
The only doubts the Bullets had when they drafted Bol concerned his weight (then 191 pounds, now hovering around 207) and his strength (which has doubled in the bench press since August).
"I've said from the beginning I didn't have a question about his ability to be an NBA player," Shue said.
Alton Lister, the Bucks' backup center, said "the sky is the limit" for Bol after he played against the Bullets rookie for the first time Thursday night. Shue said he is quite satisfied with Bol's role as a defensive intimidator, but he also knows his team, winner of four straight and nine of its last 12 games, needs more offense to win consistently while Ruland is out.
"We haven't been a high-scoring team to start with," Shue said. "Now we could be even worse." Starting with today's practice at Bowie State, Shue said, "we'll work on certain plays to get him involved in the offense and make him more effective. Manute will develop into a good offensive player as soon as he gets the proper weight and balance."
Frank Costello, the strength coach at the University of Maryland, who is supervising Bol's weight-training program, says Bol should weigh at least 225 pounds by next season, once he gets on a full-time weight-lifting program when the season is over. Bol currently lifts twice a week. In August, he was able to bench press 60 pounds; now he is doing 120.
"His strength is excellent, and he's maintaining it," Costello said. "In fact, his strength is surprisingly good. I would have imagined his strength to dwindle (once the season started). He has good work habits, and I think this reflects in the way he's playing.
"Because of his genes, he won't be another Wilt Chamberlain. But he's a guy who can make significant gains in strength, size and everything else. People are finding out he has more athletic talent than they gave him credit for. He has talent that he hasn't tapped yet."
Gradually, Bol had been getting more and more playing time, even before Ruland's injury. The Bullets had been successful more and more with a front court that included Ruland, Bol and Cliff Robinson. Shue will not rule out starting that combination by the playoffs.
Although he was averaging only 12 minutes per game before his first start, Bol's line over the previous seven games included 5.7 rebounds and 5.57 blocked shots in 19.7 minutes per game. In his last three games, he has 27 blocked shots. The 12 blocked shots Thursday night were the ninth-highest total in NBA history and only five under Elmore Smith's league record, set 12 years ago.
"The thing about Manute is how quickly he would adapt to our zone rules and to our offense," Ferry said. "I always felt that anybody who could block shots like he can and enjoy doing it, he can be effective. A great shot-blocker likes to block shots, just like a great rebounder likes to rebound.
"Manute's a great shot-blocker. That alone in our league can be a very important factor. Sometimes he's unorthodox, but he has a desire to do things right out there. When you scout a Manute, you say, 'Who in the league does he play like?' and 'How do these people affect the league?' I think of Mark Eaton, George Johnson and Tree Rollins.
"Why wouldn't he be more of a factor, because he can do things better than they can. And they're basically one-dimensional players -- shot blockers."
Coincidentally, the 7-foot-3 Eaton, who led the NBA in blocked shots the last two seasons, and the Utah Jazz are the Bullets' next opponent