SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. -- After swishing in one of his soft baseline jumpers, Kevin Duckworth decided he'd get his next shot off a little closer to the basket. But as he maneuvered his 7-foot, 275-pound body in the paint, Duckworth found himself facing a giant obstacle.
Shot one rolled out of the basket. Shot two barely touched the rim. Shot three never had a chance, having been gobbled up by the long arms of 7-7 Gheorghe Muresan.
Muresan, known as "The Big Guy" in the Washington Bullets camp, had once again made his mark.
"He keeps me on my toes, and I like that," Duckworth said after battling Muresan during the final portion of yesterday's morning practice session. "Defensively, he makes me get the ball high in the air. And when he gets inside, it's hard to stop him because he can score."
Each day Muresan, a 22-year-old Romanian who played the past two years in Europe, is demonstrating that maybe he has enough skills to warrant a spot on the roster. The team's second pick (30th overall) in the 1993 draft, Muresan last month signed a non-guaranteed contract with a team that already has 12 players with guaranteed deals.
But Muresan's not worried. From the time he met the media on Sept. 16, Muresan has shown a confidence that is surprising for a player who has never played against this level of competition.
"I feel I've been able to compete well with them," Muresan said after yesterday's practice. "It's much, much more work than in Europe and it's much, much more intense. Besides being exhausted, overall I feel well."
As Duckworth said, Muresan can be an offensive threat. So far he has demonstrated a soft touch around the baseline and the ability to hit a jumper from the free-throw line.
And he has not backed down from the physical play, which is one of the biggest differences between European ball and the NBA. Muresan has survived the forearm shoves of Duckworth and other players, and dished out some of his own.
"How does he hold up? You don't see him complaining and walking away," Duckworth said. "He holds up just fine. In fact, he initiates contact."
An obvious flaw of Muresan's is his inability to get up and down the floor quickly. At times he looks in pain running up and down the floor in his size-19 shoes.
But Muresan said he's not affected by the radiation treatment he's receiving to correct a pituitary disorder for which he was operated on in July.
Another problem for Muresan to overcome is the language barrier. He needs to have an interpreter at courtside during practices because he does not speak English.
"To me, it's amazing how he picks up on what plays we're running," Tom Gugliotta said. "He doesn't seem to be behind in anything. He's adapting well, and I didn't think it would be that easy for him."
When you're 7-7, adapting is not always easy. Muresan sleeps in a room with two king-sized beds placed together, and he often has to duck when walking down the halls of the team's hotel. And adjusting to a new language limits Muresan to greeting his teammates with a mere nod of the head or a high-five. "We communicate with a lot of non-verbals, but he's so smart that he's picking up things," Brent Price said. "Despite the language, he's been well-received."
The first test as to whether Muresan can stand up to the rigors of the NBA will be Friday when the Bullets travel to Normal, Ill., to play the Milwaukee Bucks.
NOTES: Former Arizona G Matt Othick, who had been given permission to report late because of a death in his family, has notified the team that he will not report because of a hip flexor. . . . The team will scrimmage on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at Shepherd College. Admission is free.