- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 4, 2003

Ben Wallace remembers when he was the “runt” of his family. These days he is the NBA’s top defensive player, grabbing rebounds in historic proportions. The only undrafted free agent to start an All-Star Game honed his off-the-ball skills out of necessity on the blacktop in Laos County, Ala.”I have seven older brothers, and I was the smallest one,” said Wallace, the NBA Defensive Player of the Year for a second consecutive season. “In order for me to play with them, I had to do something different. They weren’t going to pass the ball to me and tell me to shoot it. I had to rebound, get steals and chase after loose balls.”The runt is now a sculpted 6-foot-9, 240-pound power forward and the main reason the Detroit Pistons still could pull out their playoff series with Orlando, which they trail 3-2 heading into tonight’s Game 6. Wallace had his typical game — 14 points, 21 rebounds and three blocks — in Detroit’s 31-point romp Wednesday.Wallace has been on one of his vintage rebounding tears lately despite Pistons losses in Games 3 and 4. In Game 4, he had 24 rebounds, while the rest of the Pistons had 19. He has 65 rebounds in the last three games, two more than his teammates.”We depend on him heavily to get rebounds — maybe too much so,” Pistons coach Rick Carlisle said. “He has great instincts. He has exceptional ability to pursue the ball and judge how it is going to come off the rim. It’s something he takes great pride in. I really believe he thinks any ball that comes off the rim he has a chance to get. If you look at history and the great rebounders in this league, I think they have all sort of taken that tack.”The Pistons, the Eastern Conference’s top seed, have struggled since Wallace suffered a sprained knee and missed the final six games of the regular season. Eighth-seeded Orlando beat Detroit in Wallace’s first game back, Game 1 of their series.Big Ben had 22 boards in Game 3. In Game 4, he had 24 rebounds along with seven steals. Wallace, who began his NBA career with the Washington Bullets in 1996-97, averaged a league-high 15.4 rebounds and 3.15 blocks — second in the NBA — during the regular season. “He’s an enforcer,” Detroit guard Richard Hamilton said. “He dominates the game without the ball in his hand. He intimidates guys just by his presence. Even if he doesn’t block a shot, guys notice he’s still there. He just says [to teammates], ‘If you get beat, I’ll be here for you.’ “Wallace is also an expert at drawing charges and keeping the ball alive with a well-placed tip or reckless dive out of bounds for a save. Washington Wizards coach Doug Collins got a close look at Wallace during his team’s ill-fated playoff run. The power forward known for wild hair and colorful headbands was his typical dominant self, totaling 20 rebounds and seven blocks in the Pistons’ overtime victory March 18. Wallace even blocked Michael Jordan’s potential game-winning jumper from behind to force the extra session.Asked why Wallace is so effective, Collins tapped his heart. “He’s relentless,” Collins said. “He’s got good hands. He makes an effort every time. You can’t get discouraged as a rebounder if you don’t get one or two or three or four. You keep going and pretty soon you get the next three or four.”Last season Wallace became the fourth player to lead the NBA in rebounding and blocks, joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1975-76), Bill Walton (1976-77) and Hakeem Olajuwon (1989-90). This season, he become the first player to have five consecutive 20-rebound games since Dennis Rodman six seasons ago.”A lot of good rebounders get the ones that come to them,” Wallace said. “To set yourself away from the pack, you have to get the ones that no one else thinks you can get. I don’t think it means as much to some guys as it should. Coaches and GMs say we need guys to rebound. Some guys want to stand around and look and try to score 30, 40 points. That’s not me. I know I can score. It takes something different to go down there and be a rebounder and be good at it.”Wallace averaged just 6.9 points during the regular season, deferring to players like Hamilton and Chauncey Billups to score. It’s a role he has been comfortable with since coming to the Bullets out of Division II Virginia Union in Richmond. He became a solid performer with the Bullets before being dealt in one of the worst trades in a history of miserable swaps by Washington. Wallace was sent to Orlando for total bust Ike Austin before the 1999-2000 season. “We had a lot of guys coming and going,” Wallace said. “Jahidi [White] was a rookie my last year. There aren’t any Bullets left — Chris Whitney was the last Bullet. I have come a long way since being in Washington and not knowing what’s going on and not being sure about my future. It was up and down; you might play 30 minutes tonight, 10 minutes tomorrow and might not play for the next six games. It was definitely a learning experience.”Washington wasn’t the only franchise poisoned when it dealt Wallace. The Magic acquired Grant Hill, the high-priced forward who has been regularly hurt since arriving in Florida, from the Pistons in a sign-and-trade deal that sent Wallace to Detroit before the 2000-01 season. Since then, Wallace has blossomed an All Star by dominating the boards. The runt is now one of the NBA’s top stars.”Rebounding has just come naturally,” Wallace said. “Regardless of what situation you put me in, I am always going to work my way back to the board. I think that every game, regardless of where I’m playing, I think I can definitely get 20 rebounds a game. I have a lot of energy. I am looking for ways to burn off that energy.”

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