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Tough Transition Game : Tarver Struggles to Gain Invitation to NBA Camp After Injury as UCLA Senior Lowered His Stock

July 20, 1994|JEFF WONG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

IRVINE — It was a move that was typical Shon Tarver, a sharp cut through the lane and a leap to the basket that so often ended with two points for UCLA.

However, early last season against Louisiana State, the jumping ability that vaulted him into the spotlight betrayed him.

As he drove the lane for a layup, he suffered a twisted right ankle when he landed on another player's foot.

Tarver was not the same the rest of the season--he could not move without pain--and the sky-high expectations of his senior season were never realized. When NBA Draft came in June, he was not selected.

But the 6-foot-5 guard's hopes to break into the NBA were renewed when he earned a spot on the Magic Johnson's All-Stars, one of 16 teams of NBA hopefuls and veterans competing in the Summer Pro League at UC Irvine over the next six weeks.

This could be the last chance for the former Santa Clara High standout to earn an invitation to a preseason camp after his ankle injury sidetracked his hopes to play in the NBA.

Tarver regrets playing on that injury.

In hindsight, he wishes he would have sat out several weeks during the regular season rather than play through the pain.

"When I was playing injured, I just aggravated it," he said.

"It just got worse, but I really wanted to get out there, so I wound up playing on it. I did what I could."

Perhaps, but his production suffered. In seven games before getting hurt, he averaged 16.4 points and 6.6 rebounds a game. After the injury, the averages were 13.9 points and 4.5 rebounds.

As the season wore on, Tarver worried about mounting criticism.

Now he wishes people would have known the full extent of the injury.

"They were saying my head wasn't in it, that kind of stuff," Tarver said. "What I kind of wish was that (the injury) could have been known, if it had a higher profile, but I don't have any control over that."

He could not control what the NBA thought of him, either.

Once considered one of the premier guards in the Pacific 10 Conference, he did not impress scouts at the NBA's annual pre-draft camp in Chicago in early June.

"There was a lot of talk about Shon," said Brian Taylor, coach of Magic Johnson's All-Stars. "People were trying to figure out what happened to him last season. They were concerned about his shooting and what happened to his game."

Almost seven months after getting hurt, Tarver says he has regained his explosiveness and mobility.

"Now it's like rebuilding, starting all over from scratch," he said. "The more I play, the better off I am because I'm getting more acclimated to things again."

Tarver's outside shooting, though, has been spotty.

"He's got a good stroke," Taylor said.

"It's just a matter of him feeling confident. He's going to get those shots and he's got to take those shots."

In five Summer Pro League games, Tarver's numbers are modest: 12.2 points and 3.8 rebounds in about 20 minutes a game.

"It's been a struggle for Shon," Taylor said.

"He seemed a little out of it in Chicago. It's always tough because you're put on teams with guys you've never played with before and you're supposed to shine. "It's going to take time in the gym. He does have the tools to be an NBA player."

But even if his offense does not come around, his defense might be enough to get him into a camp. "The last game we played, he was very important for us to win," Taylor said.

"Still, they're going to expect him to come off the bench and score in just a few minutes. "He won't be able to use an injury as an alibi, even if it's a good one. In the NBA you have to play with those nicks and injuries."

Tarver has shown he can play well while injured, as he did when he scored a career-high 30 points in games against Oregon and California last season.

"Maybe it was because of the adrenaline or playing against two lottery picks (Cal's Jason Kidd and Lamond Murray)," Tarver said.

"I seemed to be able to move a lot better. . . . but it's something you can't sustain."

Slowly, Tarver's comfort level is rising, and so is his confidence.

"I think he'll get an opportunity to get into someone's camp," Taylor said.

"I enjoy working with him. He's got a great attitude. All he's got to do is keep working hard."

At least those are factors Tarver can control, and he's looking forward to the challenge.

"It's a learning experience," he said. "I know that I'm going to be OK. I'll be fine."

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