The Trail Blazers may or may not make the playoffs this season, but in Theo Ratliff, they have a defender who can turn on a crowd like no one the franchise has had since Bill Walton.

Speaking of whom, the increasingly loquacious broadcasting voice is outspoken in his belief that the Rasheed Wallace trade was a huge step in the right direction for the franchise.

'It is a chance for the Blazers to work their way back to the top,' Walton says. 'Rasheed had destroyed so many of the tenets that make a franchise viable. The sun has come out from behind the clouds again in Portland. The Blazers have made the right moves to make the team and community feel they are in this together.'

As for Wallace's impact in Detroit, Walton says this: 'It is working so far. I hope it works. I want nothing but the best for Rasheed Wallace.

'I would love to see him go on and achieve all the levels of greatness people have predicted for him forever. I would love to see him become a historical-level player, model his life after Abraham Lincoln and Mother Teresa, give up his own life for the sake of others and É

'Should I hold my breath?'

Walton believes the Blazers can find a way to make Zach Randolph and Shareef Abdur-Rahim complement each other.

'They can definitely make it work,' Walton says. 'Those are two good players. The 1986 Boston team didn't have a classic point guard. There have been great teams that haven't had clearly defined small and power forwards. The key is to find a way. That is what great coaches do. That is where Phil Jackson is a master.'

• Arvydas Sabonis can still play a little. The former Blazer center, who turns 40 in December, was named Euroleague Most Valuable Player, averaging 15.9 points and league highs of 10.5 rebounds and 2.0 blocks for a Zalgiris team that finished 6-8 and barely sneaked into the playoffs. Zalgiris has won its first two postseason games in its bid to make the Euroleague Final Four in Tel Aviv, Israel.

Sabonis has made a commitment to helping his sport in his native Kaunas, Lithuania. The Sabonis Basketball School, in its 10th year, has 700 youths enrolled, with much of the cost covered by Sabonis, who is also leading efforts to build a new 10,000-seat arena in the city.

• What an addition for Oregon State football to bring back Bruce Read to coach special teams, the Beavers' Achilles' heel on the field last season.

Read, son of ex-Oregon and Portland State coach Don Read, coached special teams in the NFL for five seasons (three in San Diego under Mike Riley, two with the New York Giants under Jim Fassel) and is regarded as one of the best in the business. Read is under contract for another year with the Giants, who will pay him the difference between what he was to make with the NFL club next season and what he makes as a graduate assistant at OSU.

'Bruce will be the highest-paid grad assistant in the country,' quips Riley, who says he will find a way to keep Read on his staff as a regular assistant after the 2004 campaign.

• Two of OSU's 2003 recruits who failed to qualify academically Ñ tight end Zach Hagermeister of Lebanon and tailback Charles Burnley of Valencia, Calif. Ñ are now eligible and will participate in spring practice. A third player, Lake Oswego defensive end Keith Robertson, is set to take another equivalency test next week. If he passes, he also will join the Beavers this spring.

'Keith is a guy we could be watching play on Sundays Ñ he is that talented,' Lake Oswego coach Steve Coury says of the -6-3, 250-pound Robertson. 'He is a rare breed.'

•'s Tom Lemming ranks Glencoe's Erik Ainge, who is headed to Tennessee next fall, the No. 21 quarterback in the country.

Lemming ranks six Oregon recruits among the top 25 at his position Ñ Aaron Klovas of Spanaway, Wash., seventh at offensive tackle; Willie Glasper of Concord, Calif., 12th at cornerback; Kwame Agyeman of Roselle, Ill., 16th at safety; Jacob Hucko of Cerritos, Calif., 21st at offensive tackle; Jaison Williams of Culver City, Calif., 23rd at receiver; and North Medford's David Faaeteete, 23rd at defensive tackle.

• Fox Sports Northwest? Folks in Oregon figure it is more like 'Fox Sports Seattle.' That is going to change, says Jill Wiggins, FSN's new media relations manager.

'We are working hard to defuse the impression that we are focused more on Seattle than the entire Northwest,' says Wiggins, who lived in Portland for more than three years as media relations director for the now-defunct WNBA Portland Fire.

'We realize not just Portland, but all of Oregon is a huge market for us. We are looking to dedicate more staff in Portland in order to cover all Oregon sports more efficiently. That is a short-term goal for us.'

• Nice collaborative effort by the students of Sabin Elementary School in Northeast Portland, who recently completed a trilogy of books about the Blazers as part of the team's 'Reading Month' agenda for March.

The message in the latest publication, 'Sabin's Unplanned Trip to the Rose Garden,' includes life skills such as teamwork, integrity, patience and caring for others. The prose is good; the pictures are outstanding.

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