Unseld hopes new look produces different results


It was one of those questions that Washington Bullets coach Wes Unseld didn't need to contemplate. After last week's "state of the team" luncheon in which team officials tried to shed light on the coming season, Unseld was asked where, specifically, his team could improve the most.

"When you only win 22 games," Unseld said, in a lightning-fast response, "you can improve in all of them."

In an attempt to rebound from that dismal 22-60 season, it will be a slightly new-look Bullets team that will open camp for the 1993-94 season this week at Shepherd College in Shepherdstown, W.Va.

Calbert Cheaney, the team's first-round pick out of Indiana, and Gheorghe Muresan, the 7-foot-7 second-round pick out of Romania, will be the main focus of the coaches when the rookies and free agents begin practice Tuesday. Practice for the veterans will get under way on Friday, when Kevin Duckworth, who was acquired from Portland in a trade for Harvey Grant, will get to show he's the center the Bullets have so desperately needed.

"I don't have any predictions," Unseld said. "But I know that we'll be a lot better than what we were."

The Bullets will get a chance to demonstrate that improvement during an eight-game preseason schedule that begins Oct. 15 against the Milwaukee Bucks in Normal, Ill. Washington will open the regular season Nov. 5 in Philadelphia, and will play its home opener the following night against the Boston Celtics.

Two notable players who will be absent from the early portion of camp will be Pervis Ellison, who is recovering from surgery on both knees, and forward Larry Stewart, who broke his foot during a summer-league game. The healthy return of Ellison is essential for the Bullets, who envision him at power forward this season after playing him out of position at center last year.

"It has been slower coming around," Unseld said of Ellison, who had the surgery on May 11. "We anticipate Pervis being ready toward the beginning of the season."

Unseld is hoping to play Ellison on a front line that would include Duckworth and Tom Gugliotta (14.7 points per game). If Ellison misses the start of the season, Gugliotta probably would move to power forward with Cheaney and Buck Johnson competing for the small forward job.

Washington officials have been pleased by what they've seen of Cheaney, the sixth pick in the draft, who averaged 19.8 points a game during his four-year career at Indiana. Unlike Gugliotta, who was a late arrival to camp after holding out last year, Cheaney signed early and has had a chance to get acquainted with the team.

"He's a little more mature, a little more polished and a little more talented than we realized," said Bullets general manager John Nash. "He's gifted enough where he can play two positions. I expect he's going to handle himself very, very well."

Another newcomer who has piqued the curiosity of the team is Muresan, who reportedly turned down a lucrative offer in Greece to sign a non-guaranteed rookie contract with the Bullets. "Big George," as Muresan has come to be known, has worked out with members of the team at Bowie State during the past few weeks.

"With each passing day it becomes more apparent that he'll be more available to us than we realized," said Nash, who added that an operation Muresan had in July to correct a pituitary-gland disorder probably led some teams to pass on him in the draft.

If Unseld gets a little more than he expects from his returning players, he'll be on his way to being a happier coach. In the off-season each player was given an individual program in which the team "picked the one area that was most important to that individual," Unseld said. The team periodically brought players back for testing to see how the program was working.

"Most of them did pretty well," Unseld said. "Those that did well will be playing a lot. In the end, it will all correlate."

And in the end, Unseld is hoping it will mean an increase in victories.

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