DETROIT - This NBA scout makes it clear: He knows Wayne Ellington. He

really

likes Wayne Ellington. His appraisal of Wayne Ellington isn't personal, it's business.

Keep that in mind when this scout, a veteran guy, the main college scout for his club, says things like, "He's a decent athlete - he's an NBA athlete - but he's not special."

Or when he likens Ellington's sophomore season at North Carolina to horse manure.

Ellington, now a junior guard about to face Villanova in tomorrow night's second NCAA national semifinal, left Episcopal Academy for the Tar Heels with a future pro stamp.

He'd stay at North Carolina for a year, two at most, and take his rightful place in the NBA. It didn't turn out to be that simple. Ellington declared for last year's draft, which you're allowed to do once and return to school if you don't hire an agent. His test of the water?

"He gets exposed," said the scout, who was at the pre-draft camp in Orlando, Fla., last year. "He couldn't get a shot, make a shot, couldn't guard. At the end of Orlando, I told guys, 'I don't think he'll ever play in the NBA.' "

Villanova fans should understand this: That opinion has changed. The scout has seen a better version of Ellington lately.

"He can make shots off the dribble, which is really hard to do," said the scout, who offered his unvarnished opinions on the condition of anonymity. "He's almost better off the dribble. In the Oklahoma game" - the South Regional final - "he took a hard dribble left, took a step-back jumper, a 13-, 14-footer. He's added that. He added some middle parts to his game, to his credit. I think he's played himself into the first round."

However, the scout said Ellington was "highly overrated" as a pure shooter, saying he wasn't in the league of former 76er Kyle Korver, for instance.

"He's gone through stretches where he has not made any shots - I mean any," the scout said, noting that Ray Allen of the Boston Celtics, the definition of a pure shooter, always considers it a make if one of his shots goes in and out, since he put it in the right spot. Especially in his sophomore year, "Wayne had so many bad misses," the scout said.

His technique?

"It's a little slow," the scout said, but "a little quicker than maybe it was his first two years. He gathers himself a little bit, with a little coil. A guy like Ray gets it away so quickly."

Let's stop the blunt appraisal for a second to note that Ellington isn't in Detroit to try out for the NBA. He doesn't have to be better than Allen tomorrow night, just Villanova.

The scout did say that Ellington had helped himself so much with his recent play that he probably just needed to keep from having an air ball of a game here to maintain his standing as a future NBA player. The scout said a bad game at this point would be noted, since NBA executives tend to have short memories, remembering things like, "Oh, he just scored six points against Villanova."

Ellington himself said his Orlando experience was tough, but not an accurate representation of his game.

"In that type of atmosphere, everybody's out there trying to show what they can do," he said yesterday. "There's not really much team basketball going on. It was tough on me. At the same time, I got a chance to learn a lot, to grow from that."

Ellington has never been asked to be a defensive stopper, although he has improved in that area, the scout said.

"He couldn't guard a chair when he got to Carolina - you put a number on a chair, it gets 10 points," the scout said.

Nobody can accurately rank players for the draft, since the pool isn't yet known. But the scout figures that Ellington will be taken near the end of the first round. He doesn't think Ellington will ever be a starter in the league, believing the player is a little shy of his listed 6-foot-4. He wouldn't be against selecting Ellington for his own team but wouldn't be cursing, he said, if Ellington were taken a spot or two ahead. He wouldn't be saying, "They got my guy."

However, Ellington is an "unbelievable kid," the scout said yesterday, adding that for the guard, it shouldn't matter where in the first round he would go since the last player in the round still gets a guaranteed deal.

"If he gets drafted 30th, he made it," the scout said. "He's put himself in that position with his play the last six weeks. I think he's come so far in a short time."