Jan Vesely poked his head out from the Wizards locker room a few times, waiting for the right time to make a move. When John Wall finally finished speaking to reporters last month, Vesely emerged with a Wall bobblehead doll and asked for an autograph.
Wall looked at Vesely as if he were silly, but finally relented after Vesely explained that the autographed doll would be for someone else. The hilarious exchange – which included some begging from Vesely and more confusion from Wall – could, as a fellow scribe mentioned, set the stage for an eventual buddy comedy film. (“John & Jan,” perhaps?)
But it also revealed the chemistry that had begun to form between the Wizards’ past two lottery picks, as the 6-foot-11 Vesely developed more confidence in his game and Wall made him a prime target for lob dunks.
“It was fun to play the last couple of weeks,” Vesely said. “We got more confident on the court. We played hard. We played team basketball so it was very fun.”
Vesely didn’t have the best rookie season, as he had to adjust to a new league, a new country and new language. He struggled to get time on the floor, and didn’t take full advantage of his chances until the final month, when Trevor Booker was out with an injury and he started all 15 games, averaging 8.5 points on 55.1 percent shooting and seven rebounds. The performance gave the Wizards some reassurance in selecting him sixth overall and allowed him to return home to the Czech Republic encouraged about next season.
“It was a hard season for me, a hard first year,” said Vesely, whose problems started when he injured his hip during training camp and missed the first seven games of the season. “I missed a couple of games for injury so it was tough for me and I had a hard time to get on the court. It was very tough for me, and I think I did well and proved that I can play here.”
The Wizards didn’t have any representatives on the NBA all-rookie team, with the 30 NBA coaches neglecting to put Vesely, Chris Singleton or Shelvin Mack on any of their ballots. The trio also failed to receive any votes from 120 writers and broadcasters for rookie of the year.
With the Wizards set to add another lottery pick this June, the team will need its prospects to develop, and the 22-year-old Vesely is still a project. After playing professionally in Europe for four seasons, Vesely arrived in Washington with a decent feel for the game and the underrated skill known as boundless energy.
Vesely hardly ever gave up on plays, always reaching out for rebounds and loose balls to give his team extra possessions. He also was a willing passer, but that didn’t stop Coach Randy Wittman from demanding him to be more assertive offensively. His primary – okay, only – offensive weapon was the dunk. He took 218 shots and 160 came within the restricted area, where he converted 68 percent of his attempts. He was 9 of 58 (15.5 percent) from everywhere else.
“Work on outside shot. This is the first goal, what I want to do this summer,” Vesely said.
Vesely plans to join the Wizards for summer league in Las Vegas and train in Los Angeles and the Czech Republic this offseason. He wouldn’t blame his first-year struggles on not having the chance to work out with coaches because of the lockout. “I don’t know how it is without a lockout so I cannot say that,” he said.
Vesely said he enjoyed the experience of being in the NBA. “I mean, the first games, to see the full gyms and to see all those players was really fun for me. It was a great experience to play against Dirk Nowitzki. He is from overseas, and he is my position, too; it was nice experience to play against him.”
The most difficult part of Vesely’s rookie season was dealing with excessive losing. In each of this three seasons at Partizan Belgrade, Vesely’s teams won the Adriatic League, Serbian Cup and Serbian League. He went from winning to joining a team that lost its first eight games and finished with the league’s second-worst record.
“It’s tough to be on the court and losing. It doesn’t matter if you play or don’t play. All the time, it’s tough to lose,” Vesely said. “It was hard for all of us in the beginning of the season.”
But at the end? “We really worked hard and played team basketball,” Vesely said. “We just need to continue playing hard and work hard on the practice court. That’s what we need to do.”
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