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Mike McFeely column: Beasley eager to show he's got game in NBA

Minneapolis Jerome Beasley has spent most of his NBA rookie season on the injured list. He's been in uniform on game days only a handful of times. His latest malady, at least according to the official word of the Miami Heat, is a lower back strai...

Minneapolis

Jerome Beasley has spent most of his NBA rookie season on the injured list. He's been in uniform on game days only a handful of times. His latest malady, at least according to the official word of the Miami Heat, is a lower back strain.

Funny thing, though. Prior to Saturday night's 83-77 Miami loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves at Target Center, Beasley was working out with 7-foot-1 teammate Wang Zhi-Zhi with a rubber-band contraption meant to increase quickness and strength. Beasley did not look like he suffered from any strains in his lower back.

"I'm healthy as a 10-year-old," Beasley said a few moments later, chuckling at the suggestion he was injured in some way.

Welcome to the world of the NBA, where teams commonly use the injury list to keep young players they believe hold promise. It is a practice known as "stashing."

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And that's the good news for Beasley.

Despite playing in only a handful of games, all indications are the Heat like the rookie out of the University of North Dakota.

"He's still a rookie trying to learn the plays and be consistent," said Heat veteran Brian Grant. "Once he gets into the flow of things and understands how everything works, he is going to be a player, man."

The two-time North Central Conference player of the year for the Sioux, Beasley was a second-round draft choice of the Heat last spring.

Thirty-two games into the season, we have learned more about Beasley. At 6-foot-10 and 243 pounds, he has the size and athleticism to play small forward in the NBA. The Heat, according to those who follow the team regularly, love his versatility.

"He is making absolutely fabulous progress," Heat coach Stan Van Gundy said. "We are high on him. He just needs time to learn."

And that soft shooting touch Beasley showed off so often for the Sioux is still there, he says.

"I make them just as easily and I have more confidence," Beasley said. "And my range has increased to where I can hit the 3-pointer consistently."

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Defensively, Beasley still needs work with the rotations of the pro game. That is not a surprise to anybody who saw him play for UND. It's an area the 15-22 Heat consider a strength. Looking at their 39 percent shooting against the Wolves, it's easy to see why.

Of course, the only place Beasley has been able to show his stuff is in practice. That's where he's been able to get his game fix. And it's a place where he's become something of a standout.

The Heat hand out something after every practice called the Chevy Award. It goes to the player who worked the hardest that day in practice, presumably because Chevrolets are workhorse vehicles.

"He receives the Chevy at least once a week because he works very hard," Grant said.

The question is: Will the hard work pay off for Beasley? The Heat, after all, are a struggling team that has been hammered by injuries to key players. You could wonder why Beasley hasn't suited up more often. Why the Heat haven't given him a trial by fire, so to speak.

Beasley said he might get a chance to play more after the All-Star Game break. With the injury virus decimating Miami, it might just be a matter of time until Beasley is called to action out of necessity.

"I just have to be ready. I don't know when my number will be called, but when it is called, I have to be ready to go out there and perform well," Beasley said.

Chances are, however, that Miami will remain happy letting Beasley develop and learn this season. Barring a change in the coaching staff -- which is a possibility considering Miami's struggles -- prevailing wisdom says the Heat will give Beasley another contract for next season and give him an opportunity to play.

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In the meantime, Beasley will continue to work out. The muscles in his arms and legs are clearly more defined than they were during his UND days.

"Everything at this level is higher. You can't mess up too much because you're getting paid," Beasley said. "It's not like college, where the coach would yell at you. If you mess up here, you're going to get cut, waived in a heartbeat. Then there's no paycheck. That's why you always have to go hard. You're always playing for something."

While he says there hasn't been one highlight that stands out, Beasley admits scoring his first (and only) professional basket against the Boston Celtics in October was special.

Beasley admits to liking the lifestyle afforded NBA players. That's not surprising for somebody who made the rounds of the NCC via bus and budget hotel. NBA travel is first class. So are accommodations. So is everything else.

"It's incredible," Beasley said. "I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure I can keep this life because it's great. It's better than anything out there."

Not long after making that statement, Beasley made his way toward the Heat locker room. On the way there, he was hounded by young autograph seekers hanging over a railing. He stopped and signed for several minutes.

That's the beauty of the NBA. Even if you are an unknown rookie who has spent most of his time buried on the injury list, people love you.

"My dream came true. I made it to the league. I'm not playing like everybody wants me to, but I made it," Beasley said. "Now, after you make it, the biggest thing is: How long can you stay?"

Readers can reach Mike McFeely at (701) 241-5580 or mmcfeely@forumcomm.com

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