A summer seen as pivotal in the development of Chris Wilcox started on the wrong foot Monday when the Clipper forward was arrested in suburban Baltimore after police found a handgun in his car during an early morning traffic stop.
Wilcox, who helped Maryland win a national championship three years ago and has had sporadic success in three seasons with the Clippers, was stopped about 1 a.m. after a Howard County police officer said he saw the player's silver BMW struggling to stay in a lane on U.S. Route 29 in Columbia, Md.
When asked whether he'd been drinking, Wilcox told Officer Bryon Dietzel, "Yes, I had one drink," the Baltimore Sun reported, quoting court records.
After the officer called for backup, a nearby canine team arrived and Wilcox performed a field sobriety test, which he passed. But when the dog reacted to the car that Wilcox had been driving -- which had California plates -- the player was asked whether there was anything inside. Wilcox said there was a gun.
A search found a .357 Ruger revolver in a pocket behind the front passenger seat. One spent casing was found in the weapon, police said. They also said that live ammunition and two spent shell casings were found in the car.
Wilcox, unable to provide documentation that he owned the weapon or that he had a permit to carry it, was charged with transporting a handgun in a vehicle, which carries a maximum three years in prison and a $2,500 fine. He was released Monday on his own recognizance. An unidentified passenger inside the car at the time of the stop was not charged.
Clipper Coach Mike Dunleavy, told of the arrest after flying into Los Angeles on Monday from New York, declined to comment "until I find out what's going on."
Later, the Clippers released a statement quoting team spokesman Joe Safety: "We are aware of the situation ... in Maryland concerning Chris Wilcox. We have been in contact with Chris and his representatives.
"His representatives are keeping us informed as to any developments. Beyond that, there is nothing further we can add from our standpoint at this time."
Wilcox's agent, Rock Newman, did not return phone calls.
Wilcox, who will turn 23 on Sept. 3, is regarded as somewhat of an enigma. The Clippers made him the eighth pick in the 2002 draft, taking him ahead of Amare Stoudemire, who went ninth to the Phoenix Suns. Blessed with excellent leaping ability that makes him a fan favorite, he has been described by General Manager Elgin Baylor as the most athletically gifted big man in the NBA.
But he also is a source of frustration for coaches, who question his work ethic and bemoan his unwillingness to defend or rebound consistently.
At 6 feet 10, he opened last season as a starter while center Chris Kaman recuperated from an injury, helping the Clippers to the winningest November in their history. But he struggled after Kaman's return, his playing time greatly reduced and his confidence steadily eroded as the season wore on.
A January leg injury didn't help, but Dunleavy's reluctance to call upon him kept him out of more games than the injury did. By season's end, he had sat out 28 of the Clippers' last 53 games, more than half because Dunleavy never called his name.
Privately, the Clippers question his zeal for the game.
Still, they recognize his potential and have resisted repeated overtures from teams interested in trading for him.
"Chris is going to be a terrific player," Dunleavy has said.
Due to be paid more than $2.8 million next season, he has one more year to prove his worth before becoming a restricted free agent July 1, 2006. The Clippers haven't written him out of their plans and, ever hopeful, welcome his participation on their summer league team, which kicks off a five-game season July 7 at Las Vegas.