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Heat's Eackles shapes up, returns home to New Orleans

Ledell Eackles was an enigma the last time he played in this city. League executives thought he had amazing pro potential during two seasons at the University of New Orleans, but poor conditioning and a shaky work ethic gave an indication those heights would never be reached.

Well, those predictions were right _ until now. Eackles returns to New Orleans tonight as a completely different player for the Miami Heat's game against Orlando at the Superdome.

The off-guard is close to making the Heat's permanent roster as a free agent, which is impressive because team management probably will waive someone with a guaranteed contract to make room.

And while Eackles was labeled a scorer in his four pro seasons, he has hustled defensively and not hogged the ball.

That's quite a contrast from last year, when Eackles couldn't even run the court at the Indiana Pacers, training camp.

"If anyone would have seen Ledell Eackles at this time last year, they would have never said he was going to play professional basketball again," Heat coach Kevin Loughery said.