Levy Middlebrooks and Eric White, high school basketball rivals in San Francisco and then teammates at Pepperdine, could wind up being teammates again--this time for the Cleveland Cavaliers of the National Basketball Assn.
Middlebrooks is the muscular power forward who finished his career this year as Pepperdine's all-time leading rebounder with 972. White, a slender forward who completed his eligibility in 1987, is second in career scoring for the Waves with 1,674 points.
Both are trying out for the Cavaliers this week in a camp for free agents and rookies in Richfield, Ohio, site of the team's arena. After workouts Tuesday and Wednesday, they and about a dozen other candidates will compete in a 4-day, round-robin tournament that begins today in Richfield with rookies and free agents from the Indiana Pacers, the Detroit Pistons and the Chicago Bulls.
Warren LeGarie, agent for Middlebrooks and White, feels that both have a good chance of catching on with the Cavaliers. Wayne Embry, vice president and general manager of the Cleveland team, is more noncommittal.
Neither LeGarie nor Embry seems to think that the Pepperdine pair will be competing for the same job. Both think that Middlebrooks is a power forward and White a small forward.
LeGarie said that Embry likes Middlebrooks and that he "works hard enough and certainly has the strength" to be an NBA player.
He said that Middlebrooks, whose favorite shot in college was a short jumper from the side, must improve his moves to the basket and outside shooting, things he has been working on this summer.
Although Middlebrooks was not picked in the 3-round NBA draft, LeGarie pointed out that Cleveland had only two selections in the draft. He added that "Levy wants to succeed, which is half the battle. Players who feel they have been ignored in the draft have more of a motivating factor. They want it so badly that they will not be denied."
Before he left for Ohio, Middlebrooks said he was disappointed that he was not selected in the draft and was also surprised "at the way (the teams) picked talent-wise."
"I think I've got a lot of talent. I know I have to work on some things, but who doesn't?"
When LeGarie told him of Cleveland's interest in him, he said his first reaction was, "If they like me so much, how come they didn't pick me?" But he said the agent explained that Cleveland had traded away its third-round pick.
In the first round, the Cavaliers chose 6-9 forward Randolph Keys of Southern Mississippi and took 6-7 forward Winston Bennett as their second choice. Bob Trice, a spokesman for Cleveland, said Keys "is a very good outside shooter" and was the most valuable player in the National Invitation Tournament. Bennett, he said, "is more of a rebounding-type forward" and was redshirted in the 1986-87 season because of a knee injury.
LeGarie feels that the 6-8 White, who played last season with the Mississippi Jets of the Continental Basketball Assn. and then briefly with the Los Angeles Clippers, "may be better than Randolph Keys."
"There is a good chance (White) will be looking for a guarantee. I have a good feeling (about White). He belongs in the league; there's no question about it."
Embry, noted for his rebounding as an NBA player with Cincinnati, Milwaukee and Boston, said he saw Middlebrooks play against Loyola Marymount last season.
The Pepperdine forward scored 42 points and grabbed 25 rebounds, and Embry was impressed. He said he had not seen White play and knew him only by reputation.
There are questions about how tall Middlebrooks is. On the Pepperdine roster this year he was listed as 6-7, he says he is 6-6 1/2, and Embry said the Cavaliers have him listed at about 6-5.
"He's a strong, physical player," Embry said, "but I think he's got to move out away from the basket a little bit. And with that comes a shot out on the floor. He's not that bad a shooter, but he has to become more of a shooter."
He said that Middlebrooks is an "intriguing" prospect with the kind of body that would "lend itself to (his) being a power forward."
"I like some things he does offensively. What we all need to know is if he can be the same factor in the NBA as he was in college. He had jumping ability and scored inside at Pepperdine; we have to see if he can do it in the NBA."
White has already shown he can do it in the NBA--at least briefly. He caught on with the Clippers toward the end of the season and played well when he got the chance.
"I got to start the last four games," he said in a telephone interview from his San Francisco home last week. "I was starting to fit in with it and learn the plays."
"Coach (Gene) Shue gave me a lot of confidence and started running plays for me to see what I could do. I thought I met the challenges."