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NBA DRAFT : Lakers Recall the Past : Pro basketball: Temple guard Jones reminiscent of former great Michael Cooper.

June 30, 1994|SCOTT HOWARD-COOPER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Lakers must be serious about this duplicating-the-past thing. They just drafted Michael Cooper again.

In 1994, he goes by the name Eddie Jones, the Atlantic 10 Conference player of the year from Temple. But he still plays defense and gets out on the break. He still plays shooting guard and small forward. And he still is lanky, at 6 foot 6 and 190 pounds. The real Cooper, now a Laker assistant coach, saw him recently and said "it was like looking at a mirror image."

The Lakers hope it stays that way. They invested the 10th pick in Wednesday's NBA draft that it will, taking Jones over Arizona's Khalid Reeves in hopes he will help revitalize the offense that ground out just 100.4 points a game last season and also make a contribution to one of the league's worst rebounding teams.

If the Lakers were happy with their choice, Jones, the player they had planned to take unless Lamond Murray slipped past the Clippers at No. 7, was thrilled. Though he has had only two brief visits to Los Angeles as part of pre-draft workouts, he was a Laker fan from way back, since watching Cooper and Magic Johnson in admiration during the Showtime era. Now both will be his tutors.

"It's a dream come true," Jones said from the draft site in Indianapolis. "When you grow up watching those types of players, you imitate what they do on the court. It's just God willing for me to be there and learn what they did on the court from players. Big-time players.

"This is what I hoped for. I didn't really expect it. The word out here was that it was going to be Carlos Rogers. I was hoping it was going to be me."

For a while, there was a chance it would be both. The Lakers considered Rogers more seriously in the days just before the draft and then, it is believed, tried to trade with Seattle just after the SuperSonics took the Tennessee State small forward at No. 11. Executive vice president Jerry West said during the first round they were trying to complete a deal, but would not say who it involved.

Any significant Laker trades--and the Rogers deal apparently is still a possibility--will probably involve moving one of the four returning shooting guards, all of whom have started during the past two seasons. It was crowded there already, but it's downright take-a-number now with the arrival of Jones, who is projected as a fill-in small forward who will get most of his time in the backcourt.

That this only adds to the logjam, instead of filling a more glaring position need for scoring and rebounding up front, is the obvious drawback. But, the Lakers reasoned, its better than making a reach with their highest pick since 1982.

"We have some big guards; we'll just have to see," Coach Del Harris. "I don't get into those positioning things much. I worked with Don Nelson for a number of years, and one of the things I learned from Don Nelson is to ignore the positioning and play the player. That's the thing about Eddie. We'll just call him a ballplayer and stick him out there."

Said West: "We're excited. Very excited. Going into the thing, we thought that there might be a small forward, which we've indicated is a need for us. But we just felt we could not pass on this kid.

"We indicated we were going to take the best player. And we felt he was the best player there, regardless of position."

Jones, an honorable mention All-American as a senior, was arguably the best athlete in the draft, a leaper and a driver with a great first step who needs to become a more consistent outside shooter. His offensive game has been compared to Ron Harper's.

That he is a very good defender in the process--thus the comparison to Cooper--and someone who can be a pretty good rebounder and shot blocker from the backcourt is what ultimately convinced the Lakers. They also talk about his great attitude and approach in just as glowing of terms, something that was also mostly absent from last season's roster.

The Lakers had no second-round pick.

The First Round

First-round selections in the NBA draft held at Indianapolis. Second-round selections, C12.

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