Elliott Has More To Prove Than Ability Arizona Star Fighting Off Injury Speculation

Posted: June 27, 1989

NEW YORK — For most of the season, Sean Elliott was considered the best NBA prospect in college basketball.

Elliott, a 6-8 swingman from Arizona, averaged 22.3 points, 7 rebounds and 4.2 assists while playing three positions, including lead guard, for the nationally ranked Wildcats. He was a consensus first-team All America, won the Wooden Award as player of the year and even found himself being compared favorably to Magic Johnson by his coach, Lute Olson.

But on the eve of tonight's pro draft, Elliott has found himself fighting off speculation that his left knee was so damaged from a ninth-grade soccer injury that it might hinder his longevity, and a report out of the Chicago predraft physical that indicated there might also be a problem with his liver.

"I don't know where those rumors got started," Elliott said at a press conference at the Sheraton Center. "There are no questions about my health. I think that was all blown out of proportion."

Elliott played his entire college career without a serious injury. But he found himself on the firing line after he took an extensive series of X-rays that were administered by Los Angeles Clippers team physican Dr. Tony Daly in May. Reports out of LA had the Clippers questioning whether Elliott's career would last more than five years.

Maybe the Clippers, who have the second pick in the draft, are gun-shy in the wake of Danny Manning's reconstructive knee surgery that took place in January and prematurely ended the season for the No. 1 pick in the 1988 draft.

Regardless, Elliott's attorney, Bob Woolf, wasn't about to take any chances. Woolf had Elliott examined by another physician, Dr. John Crews, of San Francisco. This time, the results were much more encouraging.

"He's probably the leading physician in the country with the EMI, which is a special picture taken of your knee," Elliott said. "When he looked at my EMI, it was a normal athlete's knee, and he didn't see an anterior cruciate tear. My knee was in good shape."

Woolf distributed that report to all 27 teams. He also distributed a report debunking the theory that Elliott was suffering from permanent liver damage.

"I took another blood test and it turned out my liver was fighting something in my body," Elliott said. "But already reports and rumors were out that I had hepatitis or something. But everything's fine."

Elliott probably could have saved himself some grief if he hadn't insisted on wearing a knee brace his last three years in college.

"My sophomore year, I played a week without it," he said. "Then we had an away game and my mom saw it. She said, 'Where's the brace?' So I put it back on."

Elliott has become the "X" factor in a surprisingly deep draft that has no clear-cut No. 1 pick. Four players - Elliott, Duke's Danny Ferry, Oklahoma's Stacey King, and Louisville's Pervis Ellison - have a shot to go that high.

The Sacramento Kings, who select first, conducted a brief phone interview with Elliott, who has done extensive personal interviews with the Clippers and Miami, which drafts No. 4.

Elliott has no idea which team will select him. "I cornered Danny Ferry in the lobby Sunday night and asked him, 'What's the scoop?' " Elliott said. ''With all his connections and the fact his father (Bob) is a GM (of Washington) in this league, I figured he might know something. But he said he didn't know any more than me."

The fact that the Kings have been so secretive about their pick has led to speculation they might trade it. There is also similar speculation where regarding the Clippers and San Antonio, which picks No. 3.

"I just have a feeling I'm going to be traded (after being drafted)," Elliott said. "Don't ask me why. There's no substance to it. I just have a feeling. All the talk that's going around; the way things have been handled among the top three teams, you'd think they all might orchestrate some kind of trade."

One person who does not seem concerned about Elliott's future is Marty Blake, NBA director of scouting.

"I think he's going to be taken very, very early," Blake said. "He's just a great talent. Theoretically, he could be better than most of the guys taken last year."

While there are no impact players in this draft to rival Manning, Elliott could come close if he is healthy. "He's the closest thing to Magic since Magic," Olson claimed. "Abilitywise, he's the most talented player I've had the fortune of coaching in 30 years. He's a point guard in a 6-8 body."

Elliott has heard all the comparisons to the Lakers' superstar.

"It's nice, and I like to hear it at times, but there's only one Magic," Elliott said with a laugh.

Elliott's ability is no laughing matter. He is a natural athlete who easily could have been a three-sport star at Arizona.

"When I first started out, I always thought I'd be a professional baseball player" Elliott said. "I was an all-star baseball player when I was a kid. Hit it over the fence three times in a game, struck out 10. My soccer coach was always telling me, 'Yeah, you've got to play professional soccer.' And here I am playing basketball."

And playing three positions. Elliott was a small forward throughout his

college career, but he was equally adept at playing both guard spots, which should make him attractive to pro teams.

"If I was strictly an off guard or a small forward, that might hurt me

because a team could say, 'We're stacked at that position,' " Elliott said.

Elliott began his career as a guard.

"When I started out in junior high school, I thought the best thing in the world was to dribble the ball between the legs," Elliott said. "You didn't have to shoot it. I used to work on ballhandling drills more than shooting. I was a better ballhandler than shooter in high school. As I got bigger, I started working on shooting; handling stayed with me."

Elliott benefitted from steady growth spurts. He was 5-11 in the ninth grade. But the time he reached his senior year at Chula Vista High in Tucson, he had grown to 6-7. And he developed into an accomplished long-range shooter in college. He shot 48 percent from the field as a senior, making 44 percent of 150 three-point attempts. He also shot 84 percent from the line.

Elliott leaves Arizona as the Pac-10 Conference's all-time leading scorer and with a gaudy reference from an impeccable source.

"In my opinion he's a first-class NBA player right now. He drives with intensity, can score from inside or outside and has a determination I haven't seen in a young player in a long time."

Not a bad recommendation from a guy like Michael Jordan.

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