Donatas Motiejunas works out for Wizards

June 22, 2011

The Washington Wizards held their final pre-draft workout this morning at Verizon Center, and the lone participant was Donatas Motiejunas. That not only allowed Coach Flip Saunders to give the Lithuanian forward his full attention but also provided several moments for light-hearted jabs.

Near the end of the session on the practice court, Saunders told Motiejunas, a 7-footer with a soft left-handed jumper, to dunk however he wanted. Every player to work out for the club had done the same, except the scrutiny in this case was especially elevated with no one else to absorb the ribbing if the dunk disappointed.

“I want to see something good,” Saunders said, only partly in jest. “I want to see a Euro Cup, Phi Beta slam jam. Next year we’re going to enter you in the dunk contest.”

With that, the affable Motiejunas shook his head, offered a polite “No” and dribbled toward the basket. He rose, pumped both arms and reverse dunked two-handed.

The showmanship portion of the workout complete, Motiejunas’s final assignment was the dreaded seven drill, when a player must make that many jumpers from each end of the foul line. A miss requires a layup and running to the boundary, then resetting and shooting from the outside again.

“So the goal is I’m going to be in an ambulance,” Motiejunas joked.

“It took one guy 22 minutes,” Saunders responded.

Motiejunas, who added the Wizards as the fifth and final team to his workout schedule, needed only several minutes to finish the task, at which point he stopped to chat with team President Ernie Grunfeld before fielding questions from the media.

“For me it’s even better,” Motiejunas said of being the only player at the workout. “When there are five or six players, it can be like somebody doesn’t pass you the ball, somebody doesn’t see how I move. Here I’m alone in front of everybody, so they see my weaknesses and strong parts.”

Most alluring about Motiejunas’s game is his jumper that once helped boost his draft stock to perhaps in the top 10. But his rebounding prowess isn’t exactly outstanding for a player his size, and now he’s projected in the mid to late first round. Although published reports indicate the Houston Rockets may be interested at No. 14, the Wizards would have the opportunity to draft Motiejunas at No. 18 should he slip.

Washington also owns the sixth pick in the first round of Thursday night’s NBA draft, and among the prospects on their list at that slot include San Diego State’s Kawhi Leonard and Jan Vesely, a front-court player from the Czech Republic.

The Wizards could use Motiejunas’s help in the front court, where center JaVale McGee is still developing and questions of maturity and commitment surround power forward Andray Blatche. Washington recently opted not to extend a qualifying offer to forward Yi Jianlian, and although the team has until June 30 to do so, it’s unlikely considering he is due to make $5.4 million next season.

“You have to work hard everywhere to fit in,” said Motiejunas, who played the past two season with Benetton Treviso of the Italian League. “I think first of all in the team I’m drafted, I have to show as much effort as I can, show how hard I can work, and the coach will see me and keep me in the game. I know I can play basketball.”

Gene Wang is a sports reporter covering multiple beats, including Navy football, the Capitals, Wizards, Nationals, women’s basketball, auto racing, boxing and golf. He also covers Fantasy Football.
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