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Commentary : He's Oscar Schmidt--Sign Him

August 30, 1987|TONY KORNHEISER | Washington Post

Like many of you, I hadn't heard of Oscar Schmidt until last Sunday. And even if I had, honestly it would have been a little difficult to take him seriously. To begin with, "Oscar Schmidt" isn't the most believable sounding name a Brazilian basketball player could have; it hardly conjures up the image of flying down to Rio for rolling beaches and tall and tan and young and lovely. Oscar Schmidt is a guy in a meatpacking plant. What does he know about marimbas? Then again, in my lifetime when you're talking basketball, there's only one Oscar--that's Oscar Robertson.

Now, however, after watching Oscar score 46 points against the United States in the finals of the Pan American Games, and reading that he scored 53 against Mexico in the semis, I have a couple of questions for the Washington Bullets:

Have you sent a limo for this guy yet?

What are you waiting for?

You've got Manute Bol at almost 7-foot-7. You've got Muggsy Bogues at 5-3. When they're standing together your team picture looks like Before and After at a pituitary clinic. You're going to tell me you can't find room for a 6-8 guy who scored 99 points in two games? Charles Jones doesn't score 99 points in a month. Oscar is a lean, mean scoring machine. Soak his right arm in ice, and turn him loose. (Brazil owes us money. Surely we should be able to work something out.)

I know, I know, the guy can't play in the NBA. Marty Blake, the NBA's superscout, said so himself Monday. Blake was emphatic about Oscar's un-prospects: "He can't play in our league, no question. He's a great shooter, but he guards nobody--he's closer to you right now than he was to anybody on the court. He'll want a contract that guarantees him 40 minutes a game. So he'll get 33 points, and his man will get 63 . . . In international ball, the refs allow you a Lawrence Welk step: a-one-and-a-two. But this guy takes three steps! Plus, the way he's always charging into people to put up his shot, if they call legitimate fouls, he's out of the game in 10 minutes."

Marty, Marty, give me a break. The guy scored 99 points in two games. Okay, I don't know who's playing for Mexico, but the guys wearing USA on their chests weren't exactly Bartles and Jaymes. If Oscar can't play in the NBA, what's that say about all those No. 1 draft choices who were allegedly guarding him?

It's not like Denny Crum didn't know Oscar could shoot it. Oscar's 28 years old, and he's been around enough for the New Jersey Nets to have made him their No. 6 draft choice in 1984. American coaches with international experience like Crum have seen Oscar's act in Europe for years. The book on Oscar says the same thing on each page: "Can shoot from anywhere. Will do." (As the other Brazilian bombardier, Marcel Souza, said of himself and Oscar: "We are the piano players, and our teammates are the piano carriers.") It's hard understanding why Crum didn't have someone playing Oscar tighter than Guess jeans.

Oscar never signed with the Nets. Apparently the team wasn't enthused about the guarantees Oscar sought. He wanted to play the whole game, and he wanted to jack it up at his pleasure. "You have to be a star. If you're not a star, they get tired of you, and send you to another part of the country. Then you have to move your wife and your babies," Oscar said, accurately describing the labor-management relationship. God forbid he should end up somewhere other than New Jersey. He opted for Europe. This season he averaged 33 points a game for a team in Caserta, Italy--"about an hour and three minutes from Rome by telephone," Blake said--where one of his teammates was Georgi Glouchkov, the 6-8 Bulgarian who played 1985-86 on the Phoenix Suns.

Dave Wohl, the New Jersey coach, said Monday he thought his team still maintained the NBA rights to Oscar. But Wohl wasn't eager to sign him. "I think he's a tremendous shooter, and he can probably play in this league," Wohl said. "But it's far easier for an American to go to Europe and do well than the other way around. Glouchkov is a good example: he was considered one of the top three players in Europe, and he had real problems here. Oscar's been around for years, and to tell you the truth there hasn't been that much interest in him. Nobody ever tried to acquire his rights from us . . . He's terrific for the level he's at, but he hasn't proven anything here." (Meaning no disrespect, Dave, but since the Nets won 24 of 82 games last season, what does a "tremendous shooter" have to prove to help you, except that he's alive?)

Wohl's reluctance to sign Oscar may, however, be moot. According to the NBA office, Oscar is a free agent and can be signed by any team.

How about it, Bob Ferry?

"No," Ferry said.

Oh, pooh. Why?

"He's perfect for the way they play over there, but fitting him into a team concept would be a little hard . . . He's a great shooter and a good scorer, but he does nothing to make anyone on his team better."

I'm probably crazy, but I thought a player who could hit the three-pointer from outside the area code might be valuable in certain situations--for example, when you're three points behind. I'd love to see Muggsy Bogues, who won't be getting his own jumper off too often anyway, feeding the ball to Oscar. (Actually, I'd have liked seeing Oscar playing at Maryland a few seasons ago with Herman Veal, so the assist line could read: Veal, Oscar.) Think of the benefits. When Oscar was 18, he found a girl who'd go to the gym with him and pass him the ball 500 to 1,000 times a day without complaining; he was so grateful, he married her. Eight or 10 assists a game and Muggsy could be on easy street.

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