BOWIE -- It was a battle that has been played out many times over the past two years at Washington Bullets practices: First there was Brent Price, shaking free of his defender, blowing by Doug Overton and easily laying the ball in the basket. Moments later there was Overton, dipping his shoulder as he drove to the basket, then stopping on a dime to launch a short jumper over Price's outstretched hand.
Rookie/free-agent camps, such as the one the Bullets kicked off yesterday at sweltering Bowie State University, are often places where first-year and fringe players try to impress the coach and catch on with the team. But yesterday, Overton and Price, each with two years of NBA experience, opted to sweat out grueling two-a-day practices in hopes of making an impression on new coach Jim Lynam and his staff.
"The heat's killing me," said Overton, after yesterday's morning session in which 13 players participated. "It was my decision to come back [for camp]. I just wanted to come in and get a head start."
Overton and Price weren't alone. Tom Gugliotta not only stopped by, but also donned his practice jersey and participated in some drills. Larry Stewart, still recovering from surgery on his broken foot, sat and watched portions of practice. Gheorghe Muresan -- 20 pounds lighter -- shook off jet lag from his arrival from Romania on Wednesday night to run up and down the court.
"It's amazing to see some of the veteran players just pop in," said assistant coach Derek Smith, a former player with the Philadelphia 76ers who was brought in by Lynam. "Sometimes you don't see veteran players the entire off-season."
One player who will be missing from the minicamp is Calbert Cheaney, the 1993 first-round pick of the Bullets who yesterday was found to have Achilles' tendinitis. He will miss all of camp, which runs until Tuesday.
The heat was so intense in the non-air conditioned practice gym (three cooling units were brought in, with little effect) that the Bullets added six players to the 13 listed for the camp roster. Former Maryland center Cedric Lewis, former Syracuse forward Matt Roe and Ledell Eackles, a second-round pick in 1988 who played four seasons with the Bullets, all practiced yesterday.
"I'm just here working hard, trying to get my weight down," said Eackles.
Even Pervis Ellison, a free agent who more than likely will not be with the Bullets next season, briefly stopped by. Ellison was limited to 47 games last season after never responding to off-season knee surgery.
"Everything's coming along just fine," said Ellison. "I'm expecting to be hearing from other teams."
While Ellison waits, Overton and Price are battling to improve a position -- point guard -- that is considered the biggest question mark for the Bullets. Overton, expected by many to challenge for the starting point guard spot last season, instead started a single game and averaged 12.3 minutes.
"It was a disappointing year for me," Overton said. "The reason why I'm in camp now is I want to play."
Price fared slightly better last season, starting 13 games and averaging 15.9 minutes. But the use of the 6-foot-1 younger brother of Mark Price was never consistent.
"Last season was tough, not knowing exactly when you would be playing," Price said. "Some nights I didn't' play, other nights I started and played 30 minutes. It's hard to develop as a player that way."
So Price finds himself fighting through screens and physical play against players who will do almost anything to wear an NBA uniform.
"It's not easy, being out here in all this heat," Price said. "You have to have your mind set. If you're going to be out here, you might as well give it your all."
And hope that your performance will catch the eye of the coaches and lead to more playing time.
"[Overton and Price] are young veterans with a ton of basketball to learn," Smith said. "They're hungry and they lead by example. In the drills they're always in the front, fighting to go first. It's a great testimony to the type of guys we have here."