EMMITSBURG, MD., OCT. 2 -- Ron Draper's basketball days have brought him full circle. If he was once in awe of John Williams, as many Los Angeles guys such as himself were, as a young man he's well aware that Williams may be standing in his way of an NBA career.

"John was probably the best," Draper said today on the first day of training camp for the Washington Bullets at Mount St. Mary's. "John was the year before me. Not too many people could match up with him. He was a force out there."

But Williams is an uncertainty now, coming off a knee injury and a hellish summer of arguments with management about his rehabilitation. So his power forward spot is open for grabs, which is one reason Washington brought in the 6-foot-9 Draper, a standout the last two seasons for American University, for a look.

"I'd like to see John come back and be healthy and ready to play, but it's a situation I really can't worry about," Draper said. "I have a job to fill. If I get the opportunity, I'm going to take it. John is guaranteed and he's still going to get paid. I'm not guaranteed, so I can't really look at him and say, 'Well, John's a friend of mine.' Right now, nobody's a friend of mine. I figure I have to work twice as hard as some of these guys have to work."

Draper's road to the Bullets is equally as traveled as how he got to AU from Pomona High in California. He went to Seattle's rookie camp, but the SuperSonics already have Xavier McDaniel, Derrick McKey, Michael Cage and 20-year-old Shawn Kemp. Bye-bye, Seattle.

Then he spent a month with the Spurs in San Antonio, and looked as if he were going to try out there. But in the interim San Antonio re-signed Mike Mitchell and added veteran David Greenwood to a team that already had Terry Cummings and draft picks Tony Massenburg and Dwayne Schintzius aboard. Adios, San Antonio.

To add to that, Draper was the first pick overall in the Continental Basketball Association. But it didn't take him long to decide to put Quad City on hold.

"Really, it didn't even cross my mind," he said. "I felt I could play with some of the better people in the NBA. . . . Right now, I have to live with it. If I don't stick here, rule out all my options over here, I figure I'll go to the CBA and play one year."

Bullets Coach Wes Unseld pronounced it much too early to evaluate Draper's chances. This was a production of Bullets General Manager John Nash anyway. Nash saw Draper playing for the Spurs in the L.A. Summer League, and was impressed.

"He's a live body that this summer caught my eye on more than one occasion," Nash said. "We invited him into our rookie camp but he went to San Antonio. I watched four games a day for a week and every once in awhile someone does something two or three times in a row and kind of wakes you up, gets your attention. He was aggressive and active around the boards."

It took two years to get Draper to American. He spent a year at Mount San Antonio Junior College in California and a year at South Florida Community College. AU's then-coach Ed Tapscott saw Draper thrashing lesser lights at South Florida and persuaded both Draper and a buddy, Dale Spears, to come north.

"He was the one thing that I didn't have until he showed up, which was a truly athletic big man," Tapscott said. "He . . . made us competitive with whomever we played against. We had always had good small people. He made a difference."

Draper turned down offers from St. John's and North Carolina State to join AU, which hadn't had a big man of substance in almost a decade.

"Coming from Los Angeles, going to another big city was a blessing to me," Draper said. "The level of competition {Colonial Athletic Association} was good. We put David Robinson in the pros making an impact, Blue Edwards is making an impact, Brian Rowsom, Johnny Newman. We have put some people in the professional levels. Overall I had a tremendous two years."

He gave American its first two-time all-CAA player since Frank Ross -- who is now trying out with Orlando -- finished in 1987. Draper was third in the country in rebounding his junior year while averaging 16.4 points a game. His senior season, AU moved him around for more perimeter action and he hit 12 of 26 three-pointers from his natural power forward spot.

"My first year, I played center a lot," he said. "I never did go in and ask them to switch the offense around or do anything for me. . . . We ran basically what the Bullets are running, the passing game. I got a lot more points from offensive rebounds and one-on-ones. I admire {Tapscott} for switching the offense around, because he knew basically that I would be a power forward in the NBA."

He led the CAA in scoring and was fourth in rebounding, and AU won 20 for the first time since 1982-83.

"Right now," he said, "I'm just concentrating on rebounding, running the floor and playing good defense. . . . they have scorers."