Jeff Fryer Gunning for Spot on NBA Team


Jeff Fryer is buzzing through town again this week.

But this time around he's throttling back so everyone can take a good look.

Fryer, who was Coach Paul Westhead's "hired gun" at Loyola Marymount for the past four years, is back at Loyola's Gersten Pavilion this week. But this time he's not wearing that familiar Lion uniform. Instead, he's playing for the Houston Rockets in the Summer Pro League.

He's one of hundreds of free agents--former college standouts and drifters from the fringes of professional basketball--trying to spark a gleam in the eyes of the scouts and coaches gathered at Loyola, with a handful of NBA veterans around for good measure.

Fryer hopes to land a spot on Houston's roster.

He averaged 22.7 points a game at Loyola this season and set an NCAA record with 363 career three-point baskets. He was one of 13 players invited by Houston to play in the summer league.

If the Rockets and Coach Don Chaney are duly impressed, Fryer could find himself with an invitation to the team's veteran camp in late September.

"It's definitely a new environment," Fryer said. "But I feel I'm competitive at this level, and hopefully I can earn a spot."

Most former college players have to shift into a faster gear when they come into the Summer Pro League.

But in order to catch a ride with the Rockets, Fryer is trying to back down from Westhead's version of the game--in which the coach was upset when Fryer didn't shoot the ball.

"I'm actually having to slow my game down," Fryer said. "I can't shoot it every time I get my hands on it. I've got to feed it in to the big guys more often and be a little selective."

He's adjusted quickly because of Loyola's pro-style offense. With the Rockets, Fryer is running the same lanes--with the guards often trailing the fast break--as he did at Loyola.

But he's learning that he has to do more to play in the NBA--like guarding bigger and quicker players.

"It's a lot more physical," Fryer said. "I'm having to play defense harder. At Loyola, our defense was real helter-skelter with all our shooting and driving. Here, all these guys were college all-stars, and they're tougher to guard."

Bo Kimble, Fryer's long-range gunnery partner at Loyola, was selected as the eighth pick in this year's draft by the Clippers. Fryer went undrafted, but that doesn't mean he lacks pro qualities.

Fryer has a special kind of toughness. He showed it in the NCAA tournament when he weathered the tragic death of teammate Hank Gathers.

Anyone who saw Fryer's devastating performance against defending champion Michigan in the tournament knows that the ex-surfer from Newport Beach can shoot with any NBA player.

Fryer set a tournament record in that second-round game with 11 three-point baskets in 15 attempts. He buried the Wolverines with 41 points--several of them from beyond the pro three-point stripe, and many times shooting without a teammate or an opponent anywhere near the hoop.

And he's up to it again.

Sunday, in Houston's 128-112 summer league victory over the Boston Celtics, Fryer connected three times from three-point range.

The first came from a foot behind the top of the stripe. The second time, Fryer got free off a screen and unloaded from the left wing over Mark Stephenson, the 10th-leading scorer (27.2 points per game) in the nation last season at Duquesne.

He capped it by snapping off a quick-release bomb over former UC Santa Barbara standout Carrick DeHart.

Fryer finished with 12 points in 18 minutes.

"There's a lot of guys who need playing time here, so I'm just trying to make the most of my opportunities," Fryer said. "I know I'm going to get the ball, and when I do, I've got to do what I do best."

Since graduating from Loyola, Fryer has added some upper body bulk and is in better shape than he was when he first enrolled at Loyola.

If Fryer makes an NBA roster, it will be because that team is in need of a shooter.

Don DeJardin, Fryer's Pasadena-based agent, has arranged three rookie camps for his client. Fryer was in the Phoenix Suns' camp two weeks ago, but he and the team agreed to a mutual release so that Fryer could keep his commitment to the Rockets.

He also has tentative arrangements to join the Celtics' camp from Aug. 15-17. Things also might still work out with the Suns.

Fryer has survived one cut with Houston. The Rockets released three guards over the off-season.

A key to Fryer's fate might be held by Dave Jamerson, the Ohio University guard who set the NCAA record for three-point baskets in a game this season with 13. He has yet to sign a contract with Houston.

Fryer and Jamerson--a first-round draft selection--are similar players. At 6-foot-5, Jamerson has a three-inch height edge on Fryer, but Fryer is a step quicker.

"I guess we'd go one-on-one if I get invited to veteran camp," said Fryer, who has a low point of release on his jump shot but has an uncanny knack of finding open places to shoot from.

If that happened, they might have to raise the roof in Houston.

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