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Sign of things to come, says Gooden
By Mike McGraw | Daily Herald Staff

Drew Gooden, who felt his offensive skills were set aside in Cleveland due to the presence of LeBron James, has more responsibilities with the Bulls. Gooden is averaging 12.6 points and 9.1 rebounds since joining the Bulls on Feb. 21.


Ed Lee | Staff Photographer

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Published: 3/13/2008 12:12 AM

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The opposing power forwards in Tuesday's Bulls-Jazz game both had clean-shaven heads, a burly physique and, well, if it wasn't for Drew Gooden's 6-inch-long beard, he and Carlos Boozer practically would have been mirror images.

The similarities extend beyond appearance. Gooden and Boozer both left high school in 1999, played in a Final Four, jumped to the NBA in 2002 and spent a few seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

But while Boozer was an all-star selection this year averaging 21.3 points for Utah, Gooden has never averaged more than 14.4 points over a season or been seriously considered for an all-star trip.

During the Bulls' 108-96 victory at the United Center, however, Gooden dominated the head-to-head matchup. He finished with 24 points and 10 rebounds, compared to 10 points and 9 boards for Boozer.

So an obvious aftermath question is whether Gooden is capable of turning in those kind of performances consistently and perhaps becoming an all-star himself someday? Gooden, 26, says the answer is yes.

"That's one of my goals," he said Wednesday at the Berto Center. "I feel like I am capable of doing that. I possess the skills. I can only get better at doing this. I will get comfortable with this team and hopefully something like that will happen."

Gooden joined the Bulls on Feb. 21 in the three-team trade that sent Ben Wallace and Joe Smith to Cleveland. He essentially was acquired by the Cavaliers in 2004 to replace Boozer, who jumped to Utah as a free agent.

Gooden's best NBA season was his first in Cleveland, when he averaged 14.4 points and 9.2 rebounds. As a whole, though, Gooden felt his offensive skills were set aside with the Cavs due to the presence of a rising young superstar.

"It's easy to go out there and play 27 minutes and grab 8 rebounds and then watch LeBron James do his thing," Gooden said. "You don't really have to work out that much to carry out that job. But there are bigger shoes to fill here. I'm going to work at it and become a better player."

Gooden proved Tuesday he has the tools to be an impressive power forward. The knock on him in Cleveland was that his focus would wane from game to game and sometimes from minute to minute.

But Gooden will get a chance to address those charges now that he has more responsibilities with the Bulls. In 10 games for his new team, the 6-foot-10 native of Oakland, Calif., has averaged 12.6 points and 9.1 rebounds.

"I was concerned before the game (Tuesday) because of Carlos Boozer and the ability he has to come out and have a big game," Bulls coach Jim Boylan said. "We've had a certain level of success against him with Ben Wallace playing him. With Ben not here, we were a little concerned. Drew came out and he played him great. Our team defense was very good."

Back in his college days at Kansas, when he played with Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich, Gooden was known for his versatile skills. He would dribble the ball upcourt, shoot jumpers and score inside.

He had one flashback moment in the Utah game when he stole the ball near midcourt and used a behind-the-back dribble to lead the fastbreak. Gooden eventually threw a no-look pass to Ben Gordon, then got it back for a soft dunk.

"I don't want to sound cocky, but I think I possess everything," Gooden said. "I could pass, I could block shots, I could play great defense, I could play help defense, I could shoot 3s. I believe I could do it all, and confidence is the No. 1 factor when it come to offense.

"This is something that is not new to me, but I've got to brush off some of the old tools and put them back into use. Because I had a couple years where I was just the guy who went out there and worked hard and grabbed rebounds."

Gooden vowed to work harder this summer and improve his conditioning to fill the new role. The Bulls are eager to see the results, because while Wallace may have held Boozer in check, the former Bulls center would never have scored 24 points in the process.