For a franchise that drafted 7-foot-7 center Gheorghe Muresan in 1993, and 7-6 center Manute Bol in 1985, Peter John Ramos isn't close to being the tallest player the Washington Wizards/Bullets have ever chosen.
C'mon, Ramos is just 7-3. "He's 7-3 and a half," Wizards General Manager Ernie Grunfeld said. "Don't take anything away from him."
Grunfeld didn't select Ramos with the 32nd pick last summer as some skyscraping stunt, a giant gimmick with no game. Ramos, 19, has played professionally in his native Puerto Rico for the past four years and was a member of the Puerto Rican national team that upset the United States in the Athens Olympics. But Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan is quick to admit that Ramos is a project in "the developmental stage" of his career.
"He's a guy we're taking a chance on a little bit," Jordan said. "In my mind, I don't think he's a long-term project. He's got the physical tools. He just has to get his coordination, get his confidence. It's a whole lot he has to work on but we like the foundation."
Asked about the strengths of his 265-pound rookie, Jordan joked, "He's strong at the lunch and breakfast table."
"He's 7-3 and takes up so much space," Jordan said, noting how much Ramos towers over starting center Brendan Haywood, himself a 7-footer. "He can run the floor. He learns really well. If he can keep the pace and we get to the point where we see some improvement, he may get some quality minutes."
The Wizards can be patient with Ramos with Haywood, Etan Thomas and Samaki Walker playing in front of him. Grunfeld isn't expecting much out of Ramos this season.
"Whatever he gives us is gravy," Grunfeld said. "We think, if he continues to work hard and continues to improve, he can help us soon. He has a lot of upside. He can be as good as he wants to be."
Ramos was spotted in a Brooklyn Big & Tall department store as a 6-5 14-year-old and offered a contract before anyone had seen him play. After averaging 20.5 points and 9.5 rebounds for Caguas in the Puerto Rican Superior League, Ramos declared for the draft last summer.
Ramos was initially upset that he slipped out of the first round but hasn't complained since. "I can't worry about that. I'm going to still do my job. To help my team win," Ramos said in his raspy baritone. "I see myself as a Shaq with a jump shot, who runs the court."
Near the end of training camp at Virginia Commonwealth University, Ramos had already emerged as team cut-up, running up to Jared Jeffries to jab him lightly in the ribs or breaking up Jarvis Hayes after picking up a plastic chair during a good-natured sparring session.
"At first he was really shy. He was scared to talk to people," point guard Gilbert Arenas said. "Now he's came out of his shell. He's funny."
The Wizards couldn't end camp until Ramos and fellow first-year players Gerald Fitch and Jon Smith broke into a rendition of "Happy Birthday" for Juan Dixon, who turned 26 on Oct. 9. Fitch and Smith started the off-key tune, but Ramos provided the beat with a playful hand clap to keep everyone in rhythm -- and in stitches.
"I clown around with everybody," Ramos said. "The trainers. The players. It's a young team. Everybody plays around. Everybody jokes around. Everything is going good right now."
Wizards Notes: Thomas was sent home late Saturday night with an abdominal strain and will not join the team for its first three preseason games against the Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers and Charlotte Bobcats this week. "He's going to stay back and we're going to watch his progress," Jordan said. The 6-10 Thomas said he injured his mid-section while jumping for a rebound during practice Saturday afternoon. Thomas signed a six-year, $41-million contract last summer. . . . Jordan said he will go with a starting lineup of Arenas, Haywood, Antawn Jamison, Hayes and Larry Hughes tonight against the Pacers in Muncie, Ind.