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THE NBA DRAFT : Richardson's Stock on the Rise : UCLA Guard Rates a Good Shot at Being an Early Pick Tuesday

June 25, 1989|SCOTT HOWARD-COOPER | Times Staff Writer

Pooh Richardson finished his four-year career with the UCLA basketball team No. 1 on the Pacific 10 Conference's assist list, as the Bruins' all-time leader in steals, and the first person in the history of the storied program to log more than 4,000 minutes of playing time.

Then he did some things to really impress National Basketball Assn. scouts.

With the NBA draft two days away, Richardson has climbed into the high-rent district among the best players in the country, thanks to a very good showing at a rookie evaluation camp in Orlando, Fla.

"He's benefited as much as anybody," Denver General Manager Pete Babcock said of Richardson. "His stock has continued to rise since the end of the season while playing in the camps. Prior to that, he probably would have gone early in the second round. Now, he's fairly well assured of going in the first round."

Maybe fairly high, too. Richardson has visited four teams in the last several days for workouts, including Denver, which picks 15th, and Seattle, which picks 17th and 18th. He also has a shot at returning home to Philadelphia, where the 76ers, with the 19th selection, are looking to groom a replacement for 32-year-old Maurice Cheeks at point guard.

Richardson's surge can be credited solely to his showing at Orlando, since he skipped a similar camp at Portsmouth, Va., and showed up in Chicago at the final pre-draft combine only to take a physical.

"It meant a lot," Richardson said of his emphasis on playing well after the college season. "I put a lot of time into getting ready for it, and a lot of teams got to see me play against guys who were supposed to be so good. I didn't talk about it going in, I just went and played."

Others didn't have to wait until after UCLA's season to be so impressed with Richardson.

"I have liked him this much all along," said Marty Blake, the NBA's director of scouting services who puts Richardson in the upper echelon of available point guards with Mookie Blaylock of Oklahoma, Sherman Douglas of Syracuse, Tim Hardaway from Texas El Paso, and B.J. Armstrong of Iowa.

If Richardson isn't the fastest climber, Jeff Sanders of Georgia Southern certainly is.

Said Clipper General Manager Elgin Baylor of the 6-foot 8-inch Sanders: "He's probably surprised everybody. He came to Portsmouth as an unknown and played very well there, and then again at Orlando. At first, no one even considered him a prospect for the first two rounds, but now he could go in the first round."

The semi-unknowns who are anything but to general managers and scouts:

--George McCloud. Teams love the 6-6 guard from Florida State because he has size, can shoot very well and handle the ball well enough that some would consider playing him at the point. The Metro Conference player of the year over the more-publicized Pervis Ellison of Louisville.

--Randy White, 6-6 3/4 forward from Louisiana Tech. Great hands, good speed, a very good rebounder and a three-point shot to keep defenses honest.

Both are probable lottery picks.

Gambles, anyone?

Vlade Divac, a 6-11 center with mobility and a shooting touch from 15 feet in, created a sudden windfall for Yugoslavia's tourist industry when he declared himself eligible for the NBA draft. That sent scouts and general managers scurrying to see him a year earlier than expected. Foreign players don't normally become eligible for the NBA draft until they are 22, but Divac petitioned to get in at 21.

The drawbacks, however, are considerable, or at least enough to make some teams shy away--very limited knowledge of English and an uncertain military commitment that calls for one year of service before he turns 27. Still, about 15 teams were interested enough to send representatives to the European Championships in Zagreb, Yugoslavia.

"Talent-wise, he's in the top 10 (of the draft)," Babcock said. "If he went to college in the United States and was Americanized to a degree, he'd maybe go in the top five."

Said Blake: "A big-time talent."

All things considered, Divac is the third-best center available, according to Blake, behind Stacey King of Oklahoma and Gary Leonard of Missouri. Some teams may gamble and take the Yugo model ahead of Leonard, who didn't become a full-time starter until his senior season but remains a valuable commodity because of size and the fact that few true centers are on the horizon for a couple years.

"Everyone else is saying someone else will take (Divac)," said Stan Kasten, the Atlanta Hawks' president and general manager. "Everyone feels, to a certain extent, safer signing an American player because they know they won't have trouble just getting him into camp. The less adventurous of us will probably pass on him."

Likewise on Sean Kemp, a player of unquestioned abilities when last he played in an organized game.

Except that it was April 17, 1988, in a high school all-star game.

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