2nd time's charm for 3 Bullets English, Robinson, Foster impressive


BOWIE -- The Washington Bullets' just-completed three-day minicamp was, ostensibly, a chance for NBA retreads, rookies and free agents to showcase their talents and bid for permanent jobs.

But with the exception of guard LaBradford Smith, the No. 1 draft pick from Louisville, none of the new faces seems certain of returning Oct. 1, when the preseason camp opens at Mount St. Mary's College in Emmitsburg.

Of the free agents, only Coppin State forward Larry Stewart, who will be tested at shooting guard during this weekend's exhibition round-robin with the Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers and New Jersey Nets, drew favorable responses from the Bullets coaching staff.

Instead, it was second-year guards A. J. English and Larry Robinson, and center Greg Foster, who impressed coach Wes Unseld and general manager John Nash with their work habits and marked improvement from their rookie seasons.

"All three of these guys are playing with a lot more confidence than the first time I saw them as Bullets in our early camp last summer," said Nash. "If you're a young player trying to move up, coming to this rookie camp is one of the best ways to catch the eye of the coaches, like impressing your boss by working overtime."

English and Robinson have improved their chances of winning an opportunity to play in the Bullets' overcrowded backcourt that has eight candidates -- three above the anticipated survival rate.

A second-round pick from Virginia Union, English proved last season that he could score. He averaged 8.8 points while playing slightly more than 20 minutes a game.

Forced to start at point guard last December after injuries to Darrell Walker and Haywoode Workman, English had consecutive games of 30, 21 and 11 points, but his inconsistent defense soon limited him to a bench role.

Robinson made the team as a free agent and began last season as a starter. He was released in December and claimed by the Golden State Warriors, filling a reserve role until he was cut and then reclaimed by Washington in April.

"Larry has come a long way in a short time," assistant coach Bill Blair said. "He's just a lot more comfortable on the floor."

English and Robinson basically are shooting guards, but have been tested as playmakers. English possesses ball-handling and passing skills but prefers playing off-guard.

"Our only two guards who are locked into positions are Michael Adams at the point and Ledell Eackles at shooting guard."

He failed to mention holdover Byron Irvin, who recently underwent surgery in Chicago to repair bone spurs in his ankle. Irvin, who was the fifth guard in Unseld's pecking order last winter, does not have a guaranteed contract.

"It's the same in our frontcourt," Nash said. "Pervis Ellison, Charles Jones, Harvey Grant, Tom Hammonds and Mark Alarie all have the ability to play and defend at two different positions. Only Bernard King is limited to one position."

The ability of Smith, who impressed the coaches with his court vision, and English to support Adams at the point could make the Bullets more willing to deal Walker. The eight-year veteran has voiced displeasure over the team's not re-working or extending his contract.

Eackles, a disappointment last season in failing to fulfill his promise as Jeff Malone's successor at shooting guard, is also a trade candidate.

"We're not talking any trades right now," Nash said. "Teams have a tendency to wait until after the rookie camps and the Los Angeles Summer League to assess their new players and decide if they want to start making moves. By late August, the talks should get more lively."

But Nash seems more encouraged by the Bullets' big picture than this time last season. John Williams and Eackles were holding out and there were uncertainties over the playing potential of the newly acquired Ellison and rookies English and Foster.

"I think this is the age of athleticism in the NBA," Nash said. "There are only a few dominating centers, so you want to try and build a team with versatile athletes. That's where the [champion] Chicago Bulls proved successful, and we're trying to go in the same direction."

NOTES: The Bullets took 11 players who participated in the camp to suburban Detroit, where the games begin tomorrow afternoon against the Pacers. Veteran F Tom Hammonds will join the team today, when former Maryland center Cedric Lewis leaves to report to Celtics rookie camp. . . Nash said there still is a chance Workman will join the team after his Italian tryout. Smith, who reported at 217, hopes to shed 10 pounds by October.

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