LANDOVER -- Tom Gugliotta, who received his only Division I scholarship offer from North Carolina State four years ago, completed his rags-to-riches basketball story last night when the Washington Bullets made the versatile 6-foot-9 1/2 forward their No. 1 pick in the 1992 NBA draft.
The selection of Gugliotta -- who led the Atlantic Coast Conference in rebounding (9.8) and finished second in scoring (22.5) as he blossomed into an all-conference choice his senior year -- was not well received by the estimated 2,000 draftniks at the Capital Centre.
In fact, the protest began an hour earlier when general manager John Nash announced his intention to use the sixth pick overall on Gugliotta.
The fans lustily booed the news, and started chanting "Walt, Walt, Walt," on behalf of Maryland's All-America guard Walt Williams, who was grabbed by the Sacramento Kings with the next choice.
"I hope that the fans were saying 'Goog' instead of 'Boo,' " said Gugliotta from the Portland, Ore., draft headquarters.
With their second-round pick (32nd overall), the Bullets chose Oklahoma guard Brent Price, who was projected as a backup to playmaker Michael Adams. Price is the brother of Cleveland Cavaliers guard Mark Price.
Nash and coach Wes Unseld defended choosing Gugliotta over Williams, Stanford post player Adam Keefe and Harold Miner, the explosive Southern Cal shooting guard. Keefe dropped to the 10th pick by Atlanta and Miner slipped all the way to 12th, where Miami claimed him.
"This is a damn good pick, and I'm upset with the fans," said Unseld. "We're not running a popularity contest. We're trying to win games.
"We like Williams," Unseld added. "But the problem is we already have people at his position [shooting guard] who might be as good or better," he said, alluding to holdovers Rex Chapman, Ledell Eackles and A.J. English.
Unseld said the need for help in the frontcourt -- the Bullets were consistently outmuscled and outrebounded in finishing 25-57 last season -- far outweighed the need for another guard. There is also the continued uncertainty over whether forwards Bernard King (knee injury) and John Williams (excess weight) will be back next season.
Unseld said he originally had doubts about Gugliotta's ability to survive in the NBA's physical game, but changed his mind after the New York native auditioned for the coaching staff three weeks ago.
"When he walked through the door, I could see he's really a big, strong-looking kid -- about 240 pounds," said Unseld. "He could possibly be a better rebounder than he's shown in college and take some of the pressure off of Pervis Ellison."
Asked why he favored Gugliotta over Keefe, a low-post operator who has more of a power game, Nash said, "You don't find too many players at 6-9 1/2 who can do as many things as Gugliotta can. He reminds me of [Phoenix forward] Tom Chambers with his overall skill. He can shoot outside, is an excellent passer and has good ballhandling skills."
Unseld said he believes Gugliotta will make an immediate contribution to the Bullets' improvement, while he envisioned Keefe as "a possible two- or three-year project."
Gugliotta was recruited by former N.C. State coach Jim Valvano as a favor to the player's late father, Frank, a friend of Valvano's father and a high school coaching legend on Long Island.
Gugliotta arguably showed more improvement his final college year than any player in the country. He became the focal point of Les Robinson's Wolfpack offense last winter, after the departure of the celebrated backcourt of Rodney Monroe and Chris Corchiani.
"I was in a situation this year where my role changed greatly," Gugliotta said. "Now I was the guy expected to take the big shot. Having that kind of pressure was something I enjoyed.
"We ran a lot of one-on-one plays for me, so I had a chance to work on those skills. But I also had to bring the ball upcourt quite often. It was important for me to get my numbers scoring and rebounding, but, at the same time, I had to try to get everyone else involved. We had a very young team, and I had to accept the leadership role."
In the eyes of NBA scouts, Gugliotta became "the complete package" -- a prolific scorer, consistent rebounder and excellent floor leader. It was a far cry from his freshman year when he averaged 2.7 points and was called a coach's pet getting a free four-year ride.
"I heard all that stuff, and it used to bother me," he said. "A lot of people didn't think I could play. That only helped motivate me, and today is like a dream come true."
Asked how he envisioned his role with the rebuilding Bullets, Gugliotta said: "I think initially I'll be comfortable at 'three' [small forward], but I feel that I can adjust to playing power forward. I've spent a lot of time doing strength work and building my body with the NBA in mind."
The second-round pick, Price, is an excellent three-point shooter and ballhandler.