How far has Pervis Ellison come in his three NBA seasons?
Consider this: Near the end of his frustrating, injury-filled rookie season in Sacramento, two of the Kings assistant coaches left him stranded on the highway after his car broke down on the way to a home game.
Today, the Washington Bullets regard the 6-foot-10 center as the cornerstone in their massive rebuilding plans.
Labeled a king-sized bust in Sacramento after being the first player selected in the 1989 NBA draft, Ellison began to show his true potential last season by averaging 20 points and 11.2 rebounds, almost doubling his production his first season with the Bullets.
"Right now, I consider Pervis the fifth-best center in the NBA behind Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Patrick Ewing and Brad Daugherty," said Bullets general manager John Nash. "Last year, they voted Pervis the most improved player. This year, I think he can become a strong candidate for All-Star and MVP honors.
"Look at Pervis today, and you see he's much stronger than when he first came into the league in 1989. It reminds me of when Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar first turned pro. They were long and thin, but kept bulking up and getting more physical. And that's what is happening with Pervis."
These thoughts were evoked in more measured terms by Bullets coach Wes Unseld during a break in training camp.
"Pervis is the kind of guy who has to be constantly pushed to excel," said Unseld. "He wants to be a great player, but I don't think he's fully realized how to get there just yet. He made a quantum leap last year, but I'm still expecting him to improve in every area this season."
A soft-spoken, unassuming type, Ellison, 25, says he is ready to accept a leadership role on one of the youngest teams in the league.
"I want to become more of a take-charge guy on and off the floor," the former Louisville star said.
"I'm not saying I'll become another Ewing or Olajuwon. But I want to be able to relate to my teammates like Magic Johnson, who makes a point of talking to them between seasons."
But it is on the court that Ellison can make the biggest difference after adding some 20 pounds through a rigorous body-building regimen.
"I believe I'll be capable of scoring more inside this season, and I have to try to keep guys from leaning on me," he said. "I don't have to be right on the block. I can beat most centers with my quickness.
"I'm more aware now of being able to pick a point in the game when we need a big basket and produce. Last year, it seemed I did most of my scoring early in games. Maybe I wasn't prepared to take over in crunch time. But now I have a different mind-set."
Ellison is considered a prototype power forward but is playing center out of necessity. Last season, all the bumping and grinding against rival centers who were 30 to 40 pounds heavier seemed to take its toll physically, leading to his missing a number of games with minor injuries late in the season.
DTC "We're going to try and protect Pervis more this year," said Unseld. "Offensively, he can beat most centers with his quickness. But defensively, it is hard for him to maintain position, so we might not have him guarding centers. It's just something we're considering now."
A few years ago, Unseld, a fellow Louisville alumnus, might have been accused of favoritism in supporting Ellison's acquisition. But now it appears to be one of their best trades.