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Blazer rookies ride it out, wait for a call

Boumtje Boumtje, Randolph want to play sooner rather than later

The rookies haven't vanished. If you want a sighting, get to the Rose Garden 90 minutes before a Trail Blazers game. Zach Randolph and Ruben Boumtje Boumtje pound the hardwood, working with assistant coaches, shooting, developing moves, catching a sweat.

Once the game starts, you usually won't see Randolph on the court unless things gets out of hand. Boumtje Boumtje? He's the one sitting behind the Blazer bench, looking stylish in a spendy dress suit.

Randolph, Portland's No. 1 draft choice, is on the active roster, but the 6-9 power forward from Michigan State is limited to mop-up duty on most nights. Boumtje Boumtje, a second-round pick, is on the team's taxi squad, er, injured list. The 7-foot center from Georgetown may not get to suit up for a game the rest of the season.

It's the way of the world for rookies on a veteran team. Work hard in practice, after practice, before games. Be patient.

Coach Maurice Cheeks is using Dale Davis, Rasheed Wallace, Shawn Kemp, Chris Dudley and even Ruben Patterson at the '4' and '5' spots. Randolph and Boumtje Boumtje sit, watch and learn.

Randolph, 20, had a stretch of games in late November and early December in Portland's rotation, getting double-figure minutes. His best performance came at Sacramento on Nov. 21, when he hit 5 of 6 shots and led a Portland rally that nearly resulted in victory.

Since then, Randolph has put in two stints on the injured list, solely for the purpose of getting another player a shot at live time, and he has played sparingly when on the active roster. He has played 207 minutes in 39 games, averaging 2.6 points and 1.5 rebounds.

Boumtje Boumtje, who turns 24 next month, got some minutes at the start of the season, then made the rotation for eight games in December, contributing especially at the defensive end. Since Jan. 11, the native of Cameroon Ñ who

didn't play basketball until he was 15 Ñ has been on the injured list most of the way, playing only nine minutes in three games. He has seen 230 minutes of action in 28 games, averaging 1.3 points and 1.8 rebounds.

'They are coming along fine,' Portland assistant coach Jimmy Lynam says. 'They both work hard. They are improving, but they are playing behind people who are real good players.'

Give me the ball!

Randolph and Boumtje Boumtje's talents lie 180 degrees apart. Randolph is an offensive player, a post-up threat with a nice drop-step, jump-hook and short-range jumper. Boumtje Boumtje is a defensive giant, a giraffe who covers the court and swallows weak stuff around the basket.

'Zach is learning,' says Portland assistant Caldwell Jones, who put in 14 years as a center in the NBA. 'He likes to play upright, standing straight up. We are trying to work with him as far as keeping his balance, bending his knees and staying low. He has quick reflexes, is a quick up-and-downer. He can shoot his shot and then go chase it if he misses, and he has good instincts going to the ball.

'Boom Boom is learning how to run the floor, how to get position on offense, get down low and hold it, how to use his body. He got a late start being exposed to basketball, but he is growing by leaps and bounds.'

Adds Lynam: 'Ruben has a great instinct to block shots. He has to get a little stronger physically, and he is very inexperienced at the offensive end. He was never asked to score at Georgetown. But his defensive potential is obvious.'

Since he began basketball as a youngster, Randolph has always been the center of attention, his team's leading scorer, a major minute-eater. Sitting and watching has been a trying experience.

'It's hard for me,' Randolph says. 'I'm used to playing. But I'm patient. I hope my time will come. Everything should fall in place with me working hard. I'm learning a lot. I'm learning how to compete, to play together as a team. I have a lot of confidence in my game.'

Boumtje Boumtje came later to fame and acclaim but feels much the same way as Randolph.

'It's very hard,' he says. 'You practice every day. You go out on the court and bang against (the veterans) and learn that way, but you would rather play in games. As a player and competitive guy, you always think you can help the team.

'At the same time, you have to understand the business of basketball and what we are trying to accomplish. I am a rookie. I'm just trying to take advantage of every chance I have in practice and do as much as possible. I think I'm getting more out of it knowing hopefully I'll get my chance one day.'

Don't expect things to change overnight for Portland's rookies. Jones says their serious playing time is 'probably three or four years down the road.'

Randolph and Boumtje Boumtje say they will try to make it happen sooner.

'I am a positive person,' Randolph says. 'Boom Boom is, too. I am sticking with it. I am just working hard.'

NOTES: Post-game Rose Garden scene after Portland's 92-87 loss to Seattle: Shawn Kemp, working a crowd of nearly 100 autograph seekers by the Sonics' team bus, 45 minutes after the game. Kemp, who missed a layup and had the ball stripped in the final minute of the game, is one of the best at reaching out to the fans, whether his personal weather report is in a rain or shine pattern. Good for him.

Dudley, 37, will retire after the season, his 15th.

Scottie Pippen is in a shooting slump that has dropped his field-goal percentage to .398. Over his last nine games, Pippen is 31 of 97 (.319) from the field. ... Damon Stoudamire has struggled in the last three games, making only 8 of 31 (.258) and is down to .403 for the season. ... Dale Davis has improved his shooting percentage to .520, fourth in the NBA behind the Lakers' Shaquille O'Neal, Utah's Donyell Marshall and the Clippers' Elton Brand.