By Gheorghe, Bullets are growing 7-7 Muresan lifts hopes for future


For the past four years, Washington Bullets coach Wes Unseld has stressed that the team needs to get bigger in the frontcourt.

Bullets general manager John Nash took the first step in that direction last week when he acquired 7-foot, 270-pound Kevin Duckworth from Portland in exchange for Harvey Grant.

But Duckworth almost resembles a small forward compared to Gheorghe Muresan, the Romanian the Bullets selected on the second round of Wednesday's draft.

At 7-7 and 315 pounds, Muresan is as tall as one-time Bullets center Manute Bol, the tallest man ever to play in the NBA, and is 90 pounds heavier.

Muresan's offensive skills already surpass those of Bol, Nash said. He averaged 19.3 points and 9.2 rebounds in tournament play and shot 73 percent from the free-throw line this past season with Pau Orthez in the French Basketball League.

"He has a very good shooting touch for a big man," Nash said. "He has more basketball skills than Manute Bol, but he has trouble running the floor and jumping for rebounds."

Muresan, 22, played 100 games for his national team and Pa Orthez this season. Nash believes the giant from Tritteri, Romania -- an area close to Transylvania -- would profit as a player, and financially, by performing another season in Europe before trying the NBA.

The Bullets will retain his rights if he plays elsewhere. Only if he skips competitive basketball for an entire year after being drafted does he become a free agent.

"Because of salary cap problems, the best we can offe Gheorghe now to retain his rights is the minimum [$150,000]," said Nash. "I'm sure he can do better in Europe."

But Muresan, who made a 33-hour trip from Bucharest to be th NBA's guest at the draft proceedings in Michigan, has expressed a desire to play for the Bullets this coming season. His agent, Bill Sweek of ProServ, said he will discuss that possibility with Nash.

"We believe Gheorghe is ready for the NBA now," Sweek said "Two teams -- Portland and Chicago -- seriously considered picking him in the first round. And Milwaukee also tried to make a deal for him after they learned Washington would take him."

Nash became intrigued with Muresan's potential after watchin him outplay one-time Russian star Arvidas Sabonis in European Cup competition.

"Bringing Muresan to our training camp at Shepherd [W.Va. College this fall could prove very interesting," Nash said.

But Muresan likely will test the European market first.

According to Spanish basketball writer Eduardo Fernandez, who writes for AS, a daily sports publication in Madrid, Barcelona had offered Muresan a five-year contract worth $2.5 million.

Barcelona recently withdrew the offer after its medical staff questioned whether Muresan's knees will be able to keep supporting his considerable bulk.

"That's just a smoke screen," said Sweek. "Gheorghe's various teams played 100 games, and he didn't miss a single one."

A more serious matter is a medical condition caused by an overactive pituitary gland. Sweek said Muresan will be examined by doctors in France this week to determine if medication or surgery is required.

But Muresan, who has a broad smile to match his size, could become an instant fan favorite if he joins the Bullets. He realizes his limitations and downplays grandiose expectations. "I was 15 before I knew what a basketball was," he told Basketball Weekly. Romania, I only did gymnastics."

But after growing to 7 feet as a teen-ager, he was recruited by the Romanian basketball federation to play in a high school tournament in Poland, where Muresan found himself looking up to a 7-3 North Korean rival. It marked the last time an opponent had a height advantage.

He made his first international splash in 1991, competing in th Junior World Championships in Edmonton, Alberta, averaging 23.4 points and 11.4 rebounds for his Romanian team.

"I realize I still have a long way to go to be a good player," he said. "That's why I hate when people compare me to Sabonis and other top European centers."

Muresan, of course, has heard all the jokes about his size.

"People may have a problem with my height, but I'm happy wit my size," he said. "I make a good salary and have a nice lifestyle. I've never wanted to be shorter."

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