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Sunblasters open USBL play tonight with Miami

The last traces of confusion were gone from Curtis Pickering's face Tuesday as he led his Suncoast Sunblasters through final preparations for tonight's United States Basketball League opener against the Miami Tropics. On Monday night, he looked like somebody who had gotten stuck in a revolving door. And in a way, Pickering had _ getting into a dispute over personnel with Sunblasters general manager Scott Barrett, losing his job, then getting it back the same day.

Not exactly the ideal situation two days before the first game, but Pickering said it's not as bad as it seemed.

"I think anytime you have a new corporation, there are going to be growing pains," Pickering said following a two-hour workout at the Long Center in Clearwater. "There is so much to do in so little time that everyone is going in different directions."

Which is what he and Barrett were doing Monday. Barrett said it was just a "lack of communication," and that the sticking point was a disagreement over who would be on the team's 10-man roster and who would go onto the two-man taxi squad. But as of Monday afternoon, Clearwater Central Catholic coach Gary Zimmerman was the head coach and Scott Adubato and Countryside assistant coach Brian O'Neill were the assistants.

"It's a shock," Zimmerman said. "I heard at 11:30 that they were having a dispute, and then at 5 they tell me that I'm the new head coach."

That lasted until the end of Monday evening's practice. After a lengthy discussion with Barrett in the parking lot at CCC, Pickering was back in his job.

"Frankly, I think the whole thing has made us all a little stronger," Pickering said.

Center Keith Lee and guard Jose Slaughter are two keys to the Sunblasters offense, Pickering said. The rest of the likely starting lineup will be: Dwight Walton and Nate Johnston at the forwards, and Kevin Francewar at the point.

Clearwater's Allen Williams will be a reserve at guard.

The Tropics will likely start Shelton Jones (St. John's) at power forward and Derek Strong (Xavier) at small forward. Former New York City prep phenom Lloyd Daniels will be the shooting guard.

"I'm not thinking about the NBA right now," said Daniels, whose promising career was derailed by substance abuse before he could attend college. "I'm just working hard at USBL ball right now, and getting out and playing against some good players. People talk about me, they should see some of the other talent we have down here."

The game begins at 7:30 tonight at Clearwater Central Catholic High School. Tickets are $5, $7 and $25 and are available at the Long Center in Clearwater, Maison Blanche, Specs and Turtles. The game will be carried on tape delay tonight at 8:30 on Vision Cable Ch. 9 and then Monday at 8 p.m. nationally on the Sunshine Network.

Sunblasters roster

Keith Lee (7-0, 230)

Position: Center

Age: 28

Recent pro experience: New Jersey Nets 1988-89

Dwight Walton (6-5, 225)

Position: Forward

Age: 26

Recent pro experience: none

Nate Johnston (6-8, 210)

Position: Forward

Age: 25

Recent pro experience: Portland Trail Blazers 1989-90, 90-91 in France.

Jose Slaughter (6-5, 215)

Position: Guard

Age: 31

Recent pro experience: Golden State Warriors: 1988-89, Quad City Thunder (CBA) 89-91.

Allen Williams (6-1, 175)

Position: Guard

Age: 22

Recent pro experience: none

Troy Bradford (5-11, 165)

Position: Guard

Age: 25

Recent pro experience: New Haven (USBL) Skyhawks 1989-90

Kevin Francewar (5-10, 160)

Position: Guard

Age: 27

Recent pro experience: Santa Barbara (CBA) Islanders.

Eddie Bird (6-6, 210)

Position: Swingman

Age: 25

Recent pro experience: none

Marvin Washington (6-10, 210)

Position: Forward

Age: 24

Recent pro experience: none

Robert Hanna (6-5, 205)

Position: Guard

Age: 25

Recent pro experience: none

Antoine Ford (7-0, 240)

Position: Center

Age: 25

Recent pro experience: Europe (Spain and France), Africa

Ilo Mutombo (6-11, 235)

Position: Center

Age: 28

Recent pro experience: none

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