Tom Gugliotta, the Washington Bullets' No. 1 draft pick, can empathize with Billy Hoyle, the troubled hero of the popular movie, "White Men Can't Jump."
Gugliotta remembers when he was 16, a gangly 6 feet 2, 170 pounds, trying to achieve his first slam dunk on a 9-foot basket at a junior high playground near his hometown of Huntington Station, N.Y.
"We shoveled the snow off the court and took turns trying tdunk the ball the same way Billy Hoyle does in the movie," the All-Atlantic Coast Conference forward from North Carolina State recalled yesterday on being introduced to the local media. "We must have stayed out there in that cold and wet for a couple of hours. But when I made my first dunk, it was like heaven."
Gugliotta, who sprouted to 6-10 and a solid 240 pounds, ha learned to do a lot more than dunk on the basketball court.
As a late bloomer who was ignored by all the Division I recruitersave for Jim Valvano at N.C. State, he blossomed into an NBA lottery pick (sixth overall) by averaging 22.5 points and 9.8 rebounds his senior year with the Wolfpack.
He silenced the critics who felt he was not talented enough t compete in the ACC, but the drive and determination were instilled in Gugliotta at an early age by his late father, Frank Sr., a Long Island high school coaching legend for more than 40 years.
"I grew up on a basketball court, being taught fundamentals b my father," he said. "From the time I was 6, he was teaching me specific skills. As I got older, he'd have me going through all these drills that I hated, but I know now that they really helped make me a complete player and give me the versatility the pro game demands today."
NBA scouts consider Gugliotta a total package, a big man wh can shoot with three-point range, find the open man, handle the ball and rebound well enough to lead the ACC.
Gugliotta remembers being toughened up by his older brothers Frank Jr., and Charlie.
When his two older sons graduated from Walt Whitman High,
Frank Sr. approached Valvano, then head coach at Iona College, to give them basketball scholarships. But Valvano felt they lacked Division I skills, and Frank Jr. enrolled at Bridgeport and Charlie headed for Union College in upstate New York.
But after shifting to N.C. State, Valvano was willing to take gamble on Tom, who grew to 6-6 his senior year and led Walt Whitman to the Long Island prep school title, averaging 24 points a game.
"My confidence really grew after my junior year in high school, he said. "That summer I went to Howard Garfinkel's Five-Star camp and, for the first time, played against the top prep school stars from the East like Alonzo Mourning, Christian Laettner and Bobby Hurley. I made the camp All-Star team, and that convinced me I could play on that kind of level."
But Gugliotta lost his biggest booster and rock of stability whe his father died of lung cancer before seeing his youngest son play his first college game.
"I still feel the pain," Tom said. "We were very close. After game, we'd always sit and talk, and he'd tell me what I did wrong, and what I needed to work on."
After Gugliotta averaged only 2.7 points as a freshman, Valvan pushed and prodded his young forward his sophomore season.
"At one point, Coach Valvano was dissatisfied with the way I wa playing," Gugliotta said. "He kept telling me, 'Don't be complacent. Push yourself harder.' "
Gugliotta took it on himself to get stronger and more physical b his junior year, when Les Robinson replaced Valvano as head coach. Lifting weights five days a week, he added some 30 pounds to his frame and held his own in the physical battles under the boards.
And now the awkward kid who longed to dunk is ready to tak the final step to the pros.
Statistics for Washington Bullets first-round draft pick Tom Gugliotta at North Carolina State:
Season. . . .. . .. ..G . . .. . . . Reb.. ...... Ast.. .. . . . Pts.
1988-89. . . . . . . .21. . . . .... 1.7. ..... . 0.2. ......... 2.7
1989-90 . . ....... ..30. . ........ 7.0. ....... 1.6. ...... ..11.1
1990-91. ............ 31. ......... 9.1. ....... 2.8. ........ 15.2
1991-92. .. ......... 30. .......... 9.8. . . ... 3.1. . . .....22.5
Totals. ........ . ..113. .......... 7.3. .. .... 2.1. ........ 13.6