EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- When the New Jersey Nets started the season a year ago, Evan Eschmeyer wasn't thinking about playing time in his rookie season.
His right arm was in a sling following shoulder surgery, and the timetable for getting back in the lineup was uncertain.
This year, there's no question. Eschmeyer is not only ready to play, he will be the starting center when the Nets and new coach Byron Scott open the season Tuesday night against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
"Esch earned it," Scott said Sunday after the Nets finished practice. "Like I said all along, Esch really played well."
In six preseason games, Eschmeyer averaged 6.3 points and 6.3 rebounds.
"I'm happy to be in this position," said Eschmeyer, a second-round draft pick out of Northwestern who injured his shoulder in September 1999 lifting weights. "I'm happy to be in the NBA and be playing, and that's the God's honest truth.
"My job now is to give us a lift from the start and make sure when I come out at the end of the first quarter we're on the positive side," he added.
Eschmeyer reported to training camp this year, expecting to be the backup to veteran Jim McIlvaine at a spot that has been a weakness for the Nets since Jayson Williams' career-ending knee and leg injuries in April 1999.
"A lot can happen in a year," Eschmeyer said. "It can go the other way if you don't prepare yourself and do the right thing. This is obviously a position I would rather be in, and I'll try to make the most of it."
That was obvious after practice on Sunday. As players walked off the court, Eschmeyer spent 30 minutes in the weight room. A few minutes later, he was back on the court, doing 1-on-1 drills.
"I still have a lot of strides to make," he said. "That's why I'll be here after practice for an eternity. I need it."
While Eschmeyer can contribute with scoring and rebounding, the Nets are concerned about his fouling. He had 24 in the six games, while averaging just under 21 minutes.
"I think it's a combination of me being too aggressive and them looking to change some things," Eschmeyer said. "It's apparent they want to call more stuff this year, and it's up to me as a player to make the adjustment."
McIlvaine, weakened by a flulike illness the past week, also needs to adjust.
"You certainly want to start, but I can't take anything away from him," McIlvaine said of Eschmeyer. "He's played very well and deserves the start. Just as long as we are winning games, I am happy whether I'm playing 40 minutes or 4 minutes."