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Clippers' Top Picks Face First Press : Optimism Abounds as First-Round Choices Meet Media

June 25, 1987|CHRIS BAKER | Times Staff Writer

When Georgetown basketball star Reggie Williams came to Los Angeles to meet with Clipper officials before Monday's National Basketball Assn. draft, he played a little one-on-one with Elgin Baylor, the club's general manager.

"I was too young to remember Elgin when he was playing for the Lakers," Williams said. "But my coach (John Thompson) is always telling us that (Baylor) was the greatest forward that he played basketball with."

So who won?

"I scored every time I had a chance to," Williams said. "Elgin scored once."

The Clippers are obviously hoping that Williams, their top draft pick and the fourth player selected overall, will have as much success in his first professional season as he did against Baylor, an NBA Hall of Fame player. Maybe he'll even give Elgin a rematch.

Williams made his local debut at a press conference Wednesday at the Sports Arena along with the Clippers' two other first-round picks, Joe Wolf, a 6-foot 11-inch, 230-pound forward-center from North Carolina, and Ken Norman, a 6-8, 215-pound forward from Illinois. Wolf was the 13th player selected in the draft, Norman the 19th.

Williams said he was surprised to be in Los Angeles.

The New Jersey Nets had been expected to select him but instead chose Ohio State guard Dennis Hopson. There were reports that Williams, who is from Baltimore, had wanted to stay on the East Coast.

"The draft works in mysterious ways," Williams said. "The Nets said they wanted me, but it's unpredictable. I was very happy to come to a place that wanted me. I'm from the East Coast, but I'm happy the Clippers chose me."

Norman said he was just happy to be a first-rounder anywhere in the NBA.

"I heard before the draft that I'd go anywhere from 8th to 14th. Water came to my eyes after I was passed by Golden State at 14," Norman said. "It was really disheartening. I had to leave the room."

But the Clippers got Norman with the 19th pick, which they had obtained from the Detroit Pistons in a trade.

"To be perfectly honest, I heard the Clippers were going to draft another player," Norman said. "I'm just happy to be here, I really am. I'm really looking forward to getting my career started."

Said Wolf: "I was just surprised and elated that someone took me in the draft. This is the second time I've been to L.A. and I like it a lot. It's really quite a shock because I'm from Kohler, Wis., which is 60 miles north of Milwaukee. There are 1,651 people who live there. But it's 1,650 now that I'm gone."

The Clippers, who had the second-worst record in NBA history last season, 12-70, drafted players from successful college programs.

Williams' high school and college teams lost a total of 21 games in eight years. When Williams played at Dunbar High in Baltimore, the team lost two games. Georgetown had a 122-19 record and made two trips to the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. Final Four. North Carolina was 115-22 while Wolf was playing, and Illinois was 71-27 while Norman was there.

"I hope we win more than 12 games for Norm Nixon's sake," Wolf said, noting that Nixon had jokingly said he would commit suicide if the Clippers won just 12 games again.

Said Williams: "You never get used to losing. We will win. We've got the players to do it."

Said Norman: "I've heard a lot of negative things about the Clippers; that they only won 12 games. But we have a new coach (Gene Shue) and three No. 1 draft picks, and I think the Clippers will be a team to be reckoned with."

They have all heard the stories about Clipper center Benoit Benjamin, too.

"I don't know him but I read the stories in the paper about him," Williams said. "I heard that he forgot his shoe and couldn't play (in an exhibition game). And I heard he was lazy."

Wolf was drafted to back up Benjamin and forward Michael Cage.

Asked if he will motivate Benjamin to work harder, Wolf said: "I'm just going to go out and work hard. Maybe he'll get some motivation from me working hard."

Williams, 6-7, 190 pounds, played mostly forward in college, but the Clippers plan to use him at guard.

"In a couple of years I'd like to play the role that Magic (Johnson) plays," Williams said. "I'm going to work hard to try to be a major part of the Clipper organization."

Under a signing moratorium worked out between the NBA and the Players Assn., teams will be able to negotiate with their rookies and free agents but won't be able to sign them until Oct. 1 or a new collective bargaining agreement is reached.

David Falk, Williams' agent, said teams are also forbidden from sponsoring summer league teams for rookies.

There are stiff penalties for breaking the rules. Falk said that teams negotiating with free agents from other clubs will be fined $1 million by the NBA and will also be unable to sign the player for three years.

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