MOBILE, Ala. -- As he walked on the court during pre-game warm-ups, past several autograph-seeking youngsters who couldn't look him straight in the knees, Shawn Bradley paused for a second.
Bradley, the Philadelphia 76ers' 7-foot-6 rookie, greeted Washington Bullets center Gheorghe Muresan, 7-7. Bradley and Muresan would meet in what had to be the tallest matchup in NBA history. And though both possess tremendous height, there's a contrast in expectations for the two.
Muresan is viewed by the Bullets as a project, but Bradley, who was picked second in this year's NBA draft, is being looked at as a savior for a struggling Philadelphia franchise, which won last night in overtime, 105-103.
"I predict that, in three years, he'll become one of the most dominant players in the league," 76ers coach Fred Carter said last week.
Those are strong words about a player who is probably one of the biggest first-round risks in NBA draft history. Thus far in the preseason, Bradley has shown only that he has a long way to go to fulfill Carter's prediction.
Bradley had one of his best preseason games last night, coming off the bench to score 20 points, grab 10 rebounds and block seven shots, as Philadelphia won for the first time. He's beginning to develop a little hook shot, and displayed good vision from the post as he constantly passed to open teammates.
But the flaws were also obvious. Several times his defender -- Kevin Duckworth or Muresan -- was able to push him out of position, forcing Bradley into taking several bad shots.
In his debut against the Miami Heat, Bradley grabbed 16 rebounds, but only hit just three of 21 shots.
Miami coach Kevin Loughery said last week that the best way to go at Bradley will be to attack him.
"I think a player of Bradley's talent is good, and he's strength away from being a big-time NBA player," Loughery said. "But until he gets the physical strength you need in the NBA, you have to attack him."
That's exactly what New York Knicks center Patrick Ewing did Friday night, when he went straight at Bradley, getting 26 points and 11 rebounds. Bradley, 245 pounds, scored six points and grabbed three rebounds in 31 minutes.
"Physical play is part of the game," Bradley said last night, shrugging off a preseason performance in which he had made 26.8 percent of his shots from the field. "It's something I have to get used to if I want to be successful around here. It's not something that I feel overwhelmed by. But it's something I'm conscious of."
Bradley has struggled, but Carter said he's still seeing enough day-to-day improvement to justify Bradley's high selection in the draft.
"I think he's done an outstanding job from where he was to where he is now," Carter said. "He's getting his stamina, and he's really progressing nicely."
What the 76ers saw in Bradley was talent not usually evident in a PTC player that size. Players such as Muresan and Miami's Manute Bol, 7-6, were viewed as projects at the time they were signed. Mark Eaton, 7-4, went from project to All-Star with the Utah Jazz, but aside from shot-blocking ability, he is an offensive liability.
But Bradley is expected to carry the team's weight on his shoulders. Despite not having played the past two years because he was on a Mormon mission in Sydney, Australia, Bradley was the No. 2 pick based on his only college season, when he averaged 14.8 points, 7.7 rebounds and 5.2 blocks on his way to being an honorable mention All-American at Brigham Young.
But Bradley said he can't be expected to carry any type of load now.
"It's going as expected," he said.
"I'm out there trying to understand what I need to do and get accustomed to the new life I've chosen to live. I knew it was going to take a lot of hard work and a lot of patience on my part. So far, we've been doing that. I'm trying to do well."
NOTES: Michael Adams and Rex Chapman each scored 22 to lead the Bullets, who shot 47 percent. The Bullets had led by as many as 15 in the third quarter. . . . Clarence Weatherspoon scored 21 to lead Philadelphia. . . . The Bullets, 0-4 in the preseason, go to Charleston, W. Va., to take on the Los Angeles Lakers tomorrow.
How 7-foot-6 center Shawn Bradley fared in his first five preseason games:
Opponent ...... FGM-A ... Pts ... Reb
Miami .......... 3-21 .... 12 .... 16
Denver ......... 2-14 .... 11 ..... 9
Boston ......... 5-11 .... 17 .... 13
New York ....... 2-12 ..... 6 ..... 3
Wash. .......... 7-13 .... 20 .... 10
Totals ........ 19-71 .... 66 .... 51
Avg. .. .. ... . .268 .. ..13.2 ..10.2