Eric Riley is a Bit of a Journeyman

February 7, 1999

Eric Riley is a Bit of a Journeyman

   "Journeyman" is a label despised by athletes, perhaps because there is little distinction about its use. You can argue with someone for days over whom to attach labels such as "warrior," "streak shooter," "tough defender," or "selfish player." But "journeyman" is quite simple: If your biography looks like an airline flight timetable, well . . .

Eric Riley need not argue whether the label fits. The Celtics center is a fifth-year veteran playing for his fifth NBA team, the others being, in order, Houston, the Los Angeles Clippers, Minnesota, and Dallas. The Mavericks are the team that originally drafted him in 1993, but they traded his rights to Houston before reacquiring him last season. He also spent a season playing in Greece.

Here's a guy who'd like to see his luggage gather some dust, and it appears that might finally happen. Riley is taking advantage of the Celtics' injuries at the pivot to show he has the makings of a reliable inside presence.

"I hope so. I'm sick of moving around," said Riley last night after the Celtics' 77-73 victory over Cleveland. Riley started at center and finished with 6 points, 11 boards, and 5 blocks. All of his rejections came in the second half, when he shut down Cleveland's Zydrunas Ilgauskas, who had burned Boston for 12 points on 5-for-5 shooting in the first quarter.

"I just tried to go out there and block every shot - that was my mentality," said Riley. "Antoine [ Walker] and I talked about shutting down the middle at halftime. We said if we shut the middle down and make them make the extra pass, we have a chance to win."

Ilgauskas scored just 4 points after the first quarter, and backup Vitaly Potapenko was also ineffective (no points and two boards). Riley's biggest block came with 57 seconds left, on an attempt by Cleveland's Cedric Henderson, with the Celtics trailing, 73-72.

"Eric Riley was really, really big for us defensively," said coach Rick Pitino. "He gave us a lift."

Riley keyed a defensive charge that limited Cleveland to 26 percent shooting in the fourth quarter. "Eric Riley played very well. He's a big body with the capability of blocking shots," said Ilgauskas.

He had his share of errors, though. After blocking Henderson, Riley came up with the ball and was fouled with :41 left. He missed the two free throws - though teammate Paul Pierce tipped in the second miss to give the Celtics the lead for good, at 74-73.

"Paul made a great tip-in, so he made up for me," said Riley. "I have to repay him, make one on a tip-in when he misses."

Riley managed to make up for the missed free throws - and a 1-for-5 shooting night from the floor - with a strong effort at the other end.

A center on the University of Michigan's 1988-89 national championship team, Riley played on Houston's 1993-94 NBA championship team as a rookie. But backing up Hakeem Olajuwon meant a career-low 219 minutes, and he signed as a free agent with the Clippers a year later.

He said this stop seems like the best fit and added that the NBA lockout and subsequent flurry of free agent signings has helped players like him.

"Every other place I've been, I was with centers who had already signed five- or six-year contracts," said Riley. "I was basically there for a backup role. Here, I can see they have a need for me to block shots and rebound, so I can become the center they need. The [ lockout] helped me because I landed in the best situation I've been in the last five years."

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