Chauncey Billups Confident that Pitino will Stand by the #3 Pick


October 14, 1997

He knew that he wanted the tattoo, but he wasn't sure exactly how it should look. Chauncey Billups had a phrase in mind - "King of the Hill" - but he didn't have a firm idea of what else should adorn his left arm.

He looked through books of designs. Nothing. Then, the man doing the tattoo noticed Billups's shirt. It was a Celtics shirt, showing the leprechaun spinning  basketball. Bingo.

"I wanted it to say, 'King of the Hill,' " Billups explained yesterday after  practice, "because I'm from the Rock Hill section of Denver and I'm the first one out of there to make it in the NBA. The guy isn't supposed to look like me.

It's just the Celtics design."

Perhaps fitting for the third pick in the draft, someone who may well be the king of the hill one day. Now, however, Billups is not quite ready to assume the throne, and even the line of succession is a bit murky. He got an eye-opening indoctrination to the NBA over the weekend and is still trying to master Rick Pitino's system.

The first two exhibition games were especially revealing. For as long as Billups could remember, he was almost always the best player on the floor. It was true in high school. It was true in college at Colorado. But when he found himself up against Mookie Blaylock, he realized he was just another player.

"In about two minutes," he said, "you realize that the difference between college and the pros is like night and day. Everyone here is bigger, stronger, and faster. It's a lot different."

Billups, who is projected as a starter, started neither game. (He isn't going to start tomorrow night, either.) He played 20 minutes in Friday's 113-89 loss to Atlanta, missing all seven of his shots and managing a single point and assist. The next night was marginally better: 2 points (1 for 1) and 2 assists in 15 minutes.

"People are going to expect a lot from me, being the third pick - I understand that," he said. "You're supposed to set the world on fire. I'm learning, adjusting. I think Rick's going to stick by me."

He's got that right. Pitino may not be starting Billups - yet - but he isn't backing away from him, either. Not by a 3-point shot.

Pitino did acknowledge that Billups, like most college stars, came into the NBA with at least one easily documented deficiency: He doesn't play defense. Pitino quickly added Ron Mercer to that list, too. He would like Billups to be more aggressive. "His biggest problem is the shot clock," Pitino said. "He's taking his time and he's very methodical. I'd like to see him race it up the floor so we can get
into things a little quicker."

Billups is playing a difficult position as a rookie with only two years of college.

"He has a lot to learn about playing the point," Pitino said. "The good news is that he has the skills and has a chance to be a great player. Not a good player, a great player. The bad news is that it's going to take some time."

Time is something Billups feels is on his side. There aren't many, if any, NBA executives who don't like his potential. He already figures he got a head start on Point Guard 101 just watching Blaylock.
"He makes it look so easy," Billups said. "And that comes with experience." He's got that right, too. The King of the Hill does not lack for confidence, as his tattoo suggests. Billups said he wasn't even nervous for the two games against the Hawks. He knows that won't last. "I can tell you one thing," he said. "On the 31st, I'll be nervous." He wasn't thinking of Halloween. He was thinking of going up against the world champs.

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