Warriors' little-used Cheaney still on mark
By Geoff Lepper, STAFF WRITER
With the basket cranked up about 25 feet into the air and hanging nearly perpendicular to the floor, the degree of difficulty was significantly higher than normal for the group of Warriors engaging in a shooting competition after practice earlier this week.
Not that it made a difference to Calbert Cheaney. The team's oldest player nailed it on the very first try.
The 13th-year swingman hasn't had much chance to show off his wares on the floor this season, but his swish on the court of New York's Reebok Sports Club was right in keeping with his dual roles: one, to be the elder statesman for the fifth-youngest team in the NBA, and two, to provide some clutch shooting in a hurry off the bench.
So far this season, it's been a lot more of former. Cheaney has played just 19 minutes in the Warriors' first five games, collecting four rebounds and one assist and taking not one solitary shot.
But he's provided invaluable wisdom to guys like Monta Ellis, the 19-year-old rookie.
"He'll just tell you what to expect, what not to do when you first come in, the ins and the outs, the on-the-court and off-the-court stuff," Ellis said. "He keeps you lifted. He knows what to do and how to do it, and what not to do. You just do nothing but respect a guy like that and take in all that he says."
There's plenty of stories that Cheaney could relate, if he so chose. Only two other Warriors were even in high school when Cheaney was selected sixth in the 1993 NBA draft by the Washington franchise then known as the Bullets.
The former college Player of the Year at Indiana — he was the player that coach Bobby Knight feigned whipping in an infamous PR stunt gone awry — has since gone on to play for 10 coaches in five cities.
"Cal understands the pro game. He understands what it takes to win," Warriors coach Mike Montgomery said. "He understands the work. And I think he's been good for the young guys. He's a quiet guy, but Calbert's always there."
Cheaney is happy to dispense guidance, if it's requested.
"Myself and Derek (Fisher) and (Adonal Foyle) to a certain extent, we just try to be there for them," Cheaney said. "Obviously the decisions are theirs. Hopefully we'll help point them in the right direction."
Cheaney is so well-respected among his peers that Mike Dunleavy has put him on a pedestal only one other player has reached.
"He's probably, along with Shane Battier, the best teammate I've ever had. He's just so professional," Dunleavy said. "He's always positive, easy to talk to, and he puts the team ahead of himself, and that's pretty rare these days."
Rare too, however, are the times when Cheaney gets to come off the bench.
Among the Warriors, only Ellis, Andris Biedrins and Ike Diogu have played fewer minutes — and the latter two have been hurt for four and all five games, respectively.
"You've just always got to be ready to go," Cheaney said. "You've always got to take the same approach and stay in the best shape. You've got to stay positive. You can't think negatively."
Montgomery can feel for Cheaney's situation.
"It's the hardest job for anybody to do because you don't know when you're going to play and how much you're going to play, yet you're expected to come in and perform," Montgomery said. "In this league, it kind of comes with the territory."
So far, Cheaney has been used primarily as a stopgap. He played 12 minutes in the Warriors' 85-84 loss to Chicago on Wednesday after Jason Richardson suffered a sprained ankle in the first quarter and was part of a group that Montgomery credited with providing some key energy in the first half.
When the time comes to provide offense, Cheaney is confident it won't be a problem.
"It's like riding a bike," Cheaney said. "It's just a matter of being ready mentally and being in the game."
Dunleavy, for one, is certain that time will come.
"I think he's going to be a big part of our team this year, whether he plays 5 minutes or 45 or doesn't play at all," Dunleavy said. "I think he's going to be a big factor, and I think at some point we're going to need him out there."
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Yeah, dude... a lotta people bag on Calbert because of him being disappointing for the Wizards/Bullets, but the truth is that he's invaluable to players like Monta Ellis and Mickael Pietrus on the Warriors. Calbert Cheaney and Derek Fisher are worth their pay through words of wisdom alone.