For a guy from blue-collar Wilkes-Barre, Pa., Cavaliers shooting
guard Bob Sura has always had a decidedly glitzy game. At Great
Army of the Republic High his penchant for crossover dribbles,
no-look passes and bounce-it-off-the-glass dunks earned him the
nickname Schoolyard. At Florida State fans held up signs that
read, WHITE MEN CAN JUMP.
So it's no surprise that the 6'5" Sura chafed for four years
under former Cleveland coach Mike Fratello's slowdown system.
Instead of getting out in the open court where he could use his
speed and explosiveness, he often had to walk it up and wait for
his number to be called. "It was frustrating," says Sura, 26.
"That's never really been my game."
The nadir for Sura came last season, when, battling a sore left
ankle, he averaged 4.3 points on 33.3% shooting, the worst
numbers of his career. Benched by Fratello and booed at Gund
Arena, he felt his confidence slipping away. The brash kid who
had been given the keys to Wilkes-Barre when he was 17 now lay
awake at night trying to figure out what had gone wrong. He hoped
for a trade, but the six-year, $28 million contract extension
he'd signed in August 1998 made him untouchable. "Basically
nobody wanted me," Sura says.
Now healthy and unchained as a starter in new coach Randy
Wittman's more up-tempo system, Sura is the leading candidate for
the Most Improved Player Award. At week's end he was averaging
15.6 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.5 assists, and leaving his
fingerprints all over Cavs victories. On Jan. 25 he had career
highs in points (31) and steals (six) in a 116-107 defeat of the
Pistons. In an 89-86 victory at New York on Jan. 8 he scored a
game-high 25 points, including a decisive three-pointer with 10.8
seconds left. Against the Bucks on Nov. 13 he had 23 points and
four steals, one of them a key strip of former college teammate
Sam Cassell, to seal a 117-112 win.
Sura attributes his turnaround as much to increased confidence as
anything else. Under Fratello, Sura says, he rarely had a chance
to play through errors, sometimes getting the hook after being on
the floor just 15 seconds. "One mistake and I was done," Sura
says. "That plays on your mind." Fratello says that he used Sura
in all 50 games last season, but that Sura simply didn't shoot
the ball well enough to merit more time than starter Derek
Anderson, who was traded in the off-season to the Clippers.
When Wittman replaced Fratello last June, Sura seized the
opportunity for a fresh start. He worked out daily, firing
hundreds of three-pointers. A 31.1% shooter from beyond the arc
before this season, he ranked ninth in three-point accuracy
(42.2%) and third in threes made (92) through Sunday. "He's
worked hard to get his game back," Wittman says. "You can't play
at this level if you lose confidence. Guys will smell it, and
they'll just go after you harder."
Although Sura could still cut down on his turnovers, improve his
shot selection and play stickier D, he's having fun again. In a
win this month over the Grizzlies he threw an over-the-shoulder
pass to teammate Shawn Kemp--one of his 11 assists on the
night--for a slam dunk, then pumped his fist and smiled as he ran
back upcourt. For a moment at least, he was Schoolyard all over
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID LIAM KYLE/NBA PHOTOS