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JAZZ SWIPE NCAA'S KING OF STEALS

The Utah Jazz's first-round pick in Wednesday's NBA Draft is what team officials are calling "a Jazz kind of guy."

Eric Murdock, a 6-foot-2, 189-pound point guard from Providence College, has his priorities where the Jazz want them. "He thinks defense first and offense second," said Jazz Assistant Coach Gordon Chiesa.Chiesa, who was Providence's head coach during the 1987-88 season, coached Murdock during his freshman year with the Friars. "He is assertive and aggressive. He has no fears defensively. He isn't worried about foul trouble. He plays havoc in the passing lanes. He has no fear of an Olajuwon in the lane when he goes in to steal it. If he gets hit in the head by an Olajuwon, then so be it," Chiesa added.

Murdock was the 21st player taken in the draft. In the second round, the 48th pick overall, Utah took 6-10 center Isaac Austin from Arizona State.

By all indications, the Jazz were optimistic about their choice. General Manager Tim Howells pointed out that the Jazz expected Murdock to be selected as high as No. 12 in the draft. Instead, he was untouched by the 21st pick.

The choice of Murdock was one that could have been tough for the Jazz. At the same time he came available, they also had a shot at North Carolina State's Rodney Monroe, whom Jazz Director of Player Personnel Scott Layden termed "the best shooter in the draft."

"But Eric, we felt, had a few more attributes to bring to the game," said Layden.

Jazz coaches say he can also score consistently from 20 feet out.

Murdock's credentials are impressive. He has more steals (376) than any player in NCAA history. He also led the Big East in scoring with a 26.5 average. "Most rookies and draftees are all offense and no defense," said Layden. "But Eric has a defensive mentality. He pushes up on defense and he plays hard. "

Chiesa admits he was partial to his former player, but tried to remain objective. Chiesa recruited Murdock to Providence, and after just five games of his freshman year, Murdock was starting. "Not really a popular decision at the time," said Chiesa. "But now it is."

Last winter, when the Jazz were in New York, the Big East tournament was going on and Layden scouted Murdock in a game in which he scored 40 points. "Scotty loved him," continued Chiesa. "It was almost like I was low-keying him. Scotty called me and he said, `Murdock was unbelievable. I really like this guy.' I said, `Scott, I can't be objective."'

The announcement of Murdock came after a drawn-out wait at the Salt Palace, where some 3,000 patrons came to view the events on a closed circuit television screen. When the Jazz's turn came, Layden stepped to the podium and made the announcement, preceding it by saying, "We're going with a point guard." The news of Murdock's selection was received with a modest cheer from the crowd.

"We've liked him for a long time," Layden said.

Murdock can play the point guard and some shooting guard. But the biggest plus the Jazz see is that, ostensibly, he can step in for All-Star guard John Stockton and the defensive intensity won't drop off.

That the Jazz would have three point guards - Stockton, Delaney Rudd and Murdock - isn't terribly unusual. Owner Larry H. Miller said at the season's end that they felt a third point guard would be good for the team. "Two years ago we had three point guards (Stockton, Rudd and Eric Johnson) and it worked out," continued Layden.

"From Day One he'll take 'em on in the lane," continued Chiesa. "He's going to play when he's hurt. He's going to practice hard. He'll respect John (Stockton) in a good way. He'll also respect Delaney Rudd."Said Murdock, "I'm the type of player who gives 100 percent every time he's on the floor. I have no problem with diving on the floor. That's the way I was brought up."

Murdock attended Raritan-West High in Bridgewater, N.J., and said he spent most of his spare hours with relatives and friends at the nearest playground court. "If we lost one game, it upset us the whole week," he said.

"Eric Murdock is one of the best backcourt players at both ends of the floor in college basketball today," said Kentucky Coach Rick Pitino. "His hands are the quickest in basketball, and he should be an outstanding NBA guard."

In Austin the Jazz have a big center - some would say too big. Though his biographical sketch lists him at 255 pounds, some estimates have him weighing as much as 278. He has at times reportedly ballooned to 290.

Austin, who transferred to ASU from Kings River Junior College, averaged 15 points and seven rebounds a game in two seasons.

"When you are looking at the second round, you have to look at a guy with potential," said Layden. "Big guys are hard to come by."

He described Austin as a player with "good hands and a nice touch." But, added Layden, "this is a tough business. He's gotta come in and get ready and go. There's a lot of competition out there."