Andray Blatche was in Houston last June, shortly before the NBA decided to lock out its players, when he met with Wizards Coach Flip Saunders and Tommy Sheppard, the team’s vice president of basketball administration, and they challenged him to take on more responsibility as the team’s longest tenured player. Saunders handed Blatche a book on leadership that helped him understand that the role doesn’t come from scoring more points or making the most money, he said, “but a team leader is someone who holds the team together and makes it as one.”
A few weeks later, Blatche was on the phone with his teammates, trying to organize team workouts since there was a possibility that the season wouldn’t start on time. He originally tried to get players to connect in August, but settled on September, since most start trickling into town around Labor Day.
Blatche, who will enter his seventh season this fall, said he got commitments from more than half of the players on the team, but when the workouts finally began this week at Columbia Gym in Clarksville, only Hamady Ndiaye and first-round pick Chris Singleton were able to join him. Blatche didn’t get the turnout he had hoped for, since some players decided to participate in trainer Joe Abunassar’s Impact Basketball Competitive Training Series in Las Vegas this week, and others elected to work out on their own.
“The only thing that held us back was we had half the team booked, but when the Vegas thing came up, that changed a lot of guys’ minds,” said Blatche, who was pleased to have an opportunity to work out and bond with Ndiaye and Singleton over the past three days.
Singleton, the 18th pick of the June draft, flew up from Tallahassee — where he’s taking classes at Florida State — and stayed at Blatche’s home in Bowie, where Blatche’s mother, Angela Oliver, provided home-cooked meals afterward. “The way I look at it, once you’re teammates, you’re all brothers,” Blatche said after a two-hour workout this week. “I want us to be more active with each other and start to build a bond so that when the season comes in, we already have our rhythm and we already know what guys are going to do and basically what’s going to happen. My vision on this was getting a head start before all the other teams. We was one of the worst teams last season and we shouldn’t have been, so with me studying the tapes and studying the game, I feel like we need to do this now and get a head start.”
Blatche, Ndiaye and Singleton ran through a series of drills with trainer Joe Connelly — who helped Blatche and Ndiaye rehabilitate injuries last season — and some local college and professional players in the morning, then returned for pickup games that lasted through midnight. Rashard Lewis, John Wall, Nick Young and JaVale McGee may have backed out at the last minute, but Blatche made sure participants were taken care of with bottled water and Gatorade and provided T-shirts that read on the back, “Playoff Starts Here.”
“Whoever is here, not here or whatever, a lot of guys have other obligations, we can’t control. But I’m glad I’m here,” said Ndiaye, the 7-foot second-year center who received a qualifying offer from the Wizards last May to become a restricted free agent. “I wanted to level up my game and see how much better I got. Have [Blatche] actually tell me what I’m doing right and wrong. I’ve been working so hard this summer that to me, it was no doubt. I had to be here.”
Blatche and Singleton had never met before the workouts but appeared to hit it off, as the two exchanged jokes and Blatche decided to douse the rookie with a cup of water on his shirtless back. “Hey, that actually feels pretty good,” Singleton said.
After a stalled negotiation with NBA commissioner David Stern, deputy commissioner Adam Silver and the owners on Tuesday, National Basketball Players Association Executive Director Billy Hunter said he has begun to advise players to prepare to miss at least half of the season until the labor dispute is settled.
Wizards forward Trevor Booker left on Tuesday for Israel, where he will play for Bnai HaSharon until the lockout ends, and Kevin Seraphin is expected to sign with a team in Europe after competing for France in the FIBA European Championships in Lithuania. But for the players that have stayed behind, Blatche said he would schedule more workouts when he returns from his summer home in Miami at the end of the month.
“Most guys are taking the lockout as a curse. I look at it as a blessing,” Blatche said. “We have this opportunity ahead of us to work together and get our mindset right and get ready for the season, if there is one. I’m believing there will be. I’m hoping that everything will get resolved soon.”