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Keith Van Horn may be versatile enough to play power forward and
small forward for his NBA team, the New Jersey Nets, and some
pro scouts even think that in a pinch he could be used as a
shooting guard. But last week the 6'10", 232-pound Van Horn was
a center--the center of countless conversations between general
managers and coaches trying to get in position to draft him or
trade for him. Van Horn was the subject of so many long-distance
phone calls that Sprint and MCI ought to kick in a portion of
his rookie salary.

Tim Duncan, a center from Wake Forest who was chosen No. 1
overall by the San Antonio Spurs, was the best player available
in the June 25 draft, but Van Horn, the sweet-shooting forward
from Utah chosen right after him, was the most intriguing. After
a scintillating round of predraft workouts convinced several
clubs that he was even better than they had thought, Van Horn
suddenly became a key figure in many teams' master plans (page
60). "It was evident on draft day that several teams were
coveting his services," says New Jersey general manager John
Nash. "If we hadn't gotten him, I don't know where he would have
ended up, whether it would have been in Philadelphia, Boston,
Chicago, Denver or somewhere else."

After heated negotiating, the Nets acquired Van Horn from the
Philadelphia 76ers, who had agreed to draft him with the second
pick and then trade him to New Jersey with guard Lucious Harris
and forwards Michael Cage and Don MacLean for guard Jimmy
Jackson, center Eric Montross and the rights to two draftees,
forwards Tim Thomas of Villanova (picked No. 7) and Anthony
Parker of Bradley (No. 21).

Why the sudden interest in Van Horn, who before the draft often
was lumped with about a half dozen other supposedly
less-than-imposing lottery candidates and who was said to be
lacking in physical strength and defensive ability? Among Van
Horn's assets is his maturity: He played four years of college
ball, and in a draft filled with underclassmen, he, other than
Duncan (also a senior), was the closest thing to a polished
player among the lottery possibilities. Even more important,
though, was his predraft workout tour. Denver Nuggets general
manager Allan Bristow says Van Horn's audition for the Nuggets
was the most impressive he had seen since Larry Johnson's
workout for the Charlotte Hornets, whom Bristow then coached, in
1991. During his stop in Denver, Van Horn impressed new Nuggets
coach Bill Hanzlik with his low-post moves. In his audition for
the Vancouver Grizzlies, he made 46 of 50 medium-range jump
shots. After Van Horn's New Jersey workout, Nash and Nets coach
John Calipari came away raving about his leaping ability. "He's
pretty much the complete package," says Bristow. "He's a great
shooter, and he has great strength going to the basket."

The only knock against Van Horn's offensive game is a slight
one: He is an ordinary passer. "It's the main reason why the
Larry Bird comparisons are inaccurate, as well as being
premature," says his college coach, Rick Majerus, for whom Van
Horn averaged 22.0 points, 9.5 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game
as a senior. "He's not a great passer, partly because we didn't
ask him to do it very much at Utah. Keith can't pass the way
Bird did, but I don't know if Bird could run the floor the way
Keith does. The main thing is that Keith is so versatile. If you
put a big guy on him, he's going to go outside and knock down
the shot. If you put a small guy on him, he's going to take him
into the low post and abuse him."

Van Horn made 40.1% of his three-point attempts during his
collegiate career, and he will be a threat even from the NBA's
deeper three-point arc (which, the league announced last week,
will move back from 22 feet at the top of the key to 23'9" for
the 1997-98 season). Although he is not exceptionally quick, Van
Horn does have a quick first step, which most NBA talent
evaluators believe will get him to the foul line often. When he
gets there, he will score. Van Horn is a superb free throw
shooter: His '96-97 percentage at Utah was 90.4%, second in the

On defense Van Horn isn't nearly as accomplished. "Because of
his ranginess he'll always be adequate," Bristow says. Van Horn
might agree with that assessment. "A lot of people ask, 'How
does he guard a [6'7"] Scottie Pippen or a [6'8"] Grant Hill?'"
Van Horn says, referring, respectively, to the Chicago Bulls'
and the Detroit Pistons' slashing small forwards. "I don't know
[anyone] who does guard those two. You look at the rest of the
league, though, and you see [the Indiana Pacers'] Derrick McKey,
[the Seattle SuperSonics'] Detlef Schrempf, [the Minnesota
Timberwolves'] Tom Gugliotta," Van Horn continues, citing three
players who, like him, are listed at 6'10". "The small forwards
these days are very big, very versatile, and I fit that mold."

In the immediate future Van Horn may have to worry more about
opposing power forwards than small forwards. Having traded
Montross, New Jersey is without a starting center. Unless the
Nets acquire one--a deal for the Washington Bullets' Gheorghe
Muresan has been rumored--they plan to use current power forward
Jayson Williams extensively at center, with Van Horn at power
forward and Kendall Gill at small forward. Van Horn clearly
doesn't have the bulk to battle some of the bruisers he will see
at power forward, but if he finds himself out of his depth, New
Jersey surely won't let him suffer there for long. The Nets made
a major gamble in trading for him because they had to take on
the contracts of Harris (six years and $12.8 million remaining),
MacLean (four years, $13.5 million) and Cage (two years, $2.8
million) to complete the deal. Those contracts eat up precious
salary-cap space, forcing the Nets to scuttle their plan to be a
big player in next summer's potentially talent-laden free-agent
market. If Van Horn turns out to be anything less than a star,
the Nets will have made a blunder with long-term consequences.

But if they turn out to be wrong about Van Horn, they will at
least have a great deal of company around the league, including
Van Horn himself. "The team that drafts me gets a guy who
understands pro sets and man-to-man defense," he said before the
draft. "You won't have to spend practice time explaining to me
how defense is played in this league because I've played that
way for four years at Utah. I can play. I know I can play."

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH NBA teams were impressed by the 6'10" Van Horn's accurate shot, quick moves and surprising spring. [Keith Van Horn and others in game]

"I don't know if Bird could run the floor the way Keith does,"
says Rick Majerus.