BOWIE -- This time last year, Doug Overton was playing guard for the Illawara Hawks of the Australian Basketball League, about as far as an aspiring pro can be from the NBA.
Today, the La Salle College graduate is participating in the Washington Bullets' minicamp, building a strong case to be the team's key backcourt reserve and even pressing Michael Adams for starting point guard.
"It's still a fantasy," said Overton, looking back on his improbable jump from obscurity to becoming a starter for the Bullets. "When I think of where I was and where I am now, it's mind-boggling."
While lottery pick Tom Gugliotta received most of the attention last fall, Overton, who made the team as a free agent, was unquestionably the most pleasant surprise, averaging 9.2 points and 4.1 assists before fracturing his left thumb in Boston on Jan. 13, and sitting out the next 26 games.
But general manager John Nash, who had held a similar position with the Philadelphia 76ers before shifting to Washington, had been a longtime admirer of Overton and made re-signing the quick 6-foot-3 guard a top priority.
Overton agreed to a three-year contract Tuesday, with an option to become a free agent after the first two years.
"We played some of our best basketball early last season with Overton on the floor," said Nash, recalling a 126-109 rout of the Utah Jazz in which the rookie scored 21 points and handed out 12 assists. "Dougconvinced us he's a good player, and, with experience, he could develop into one of the best backup guards in the league."
Most pro scouts were equally enamored of Overton his senior year in college. He was rated as highly as UNLV point guard Greg Anthony, who became the 12th player selected in the 1991 draft, by the New York Knicks.
But Overton suffered a severe ankle sprain in midseason for La Salle. Afraid that his pro stock would drop if he took time off, he continued to play with the injury and his statistics dropped. He continued to struggle at NBA camps in Orlando and Chicago, and plummeted to the second round in the draft when the Detroit Pistons made him the 40th selection.
After getting cut by the Pistons, there would be a brief fling with the Rockford Lightning in the Continental Basketball Association before he received an offer to play in Australia.
"Playing in Australia gave my confidence a tremendous boost," he said.
Overton kept pressuring his agent, Steve Mountain, to inquire about any NBA openings. When Nash, needing an extra guard in camp, extended an invitation, Overton arrived at Shepherd College only a week before the team started playing preseason games.
His timing was impeccable. Rookie draft pick Brent Price suffered a groin pull, and Overton seized the opportunity by averaging 11 points shooting and 64 percent from the field in five exhibitions.
Despite his impressive rookie year, Overton has left nothing to chance. After minicamp, he plans to play in a round-robin series next week in New York against players from five Eastern Conference rivals.
His agent had entertained offers from several other NBA teams, but Overton made it clear he wanted to return to the Bullets.
"They gave me my big break when a lot of teams had forgotten about me," he said.