After watching Jan Vesely in the Euroleague Final Four in Paris in May of last year, Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld said that he returned to Washington and leaned heavily toward taking Jan Vesely with their lottery pick. At the time, the Wizards had the fifth-best odds to win the lottery and they were immediately enamored with the slight, speedy wing who played with unrestrained energy.
“He was one of the best players in that tournament. We thought he was going to come out and we were looking at him,” Grunfeld said. “He was one of the guys who was in our wheelhouse. Especially before we won the lottery. We won the lottery, things changed a little bit.”
The Wizards lucked into John Wall, but they also experienced some more good fortune last year, when Vesely decided not to enter the draft.
“Three games, I saw him play in. He’s been on people’s radars. He’s been on our radar. A lot of teams would’ve looked at him last year,”said Grunfeld, who theorized that Vesely simply wasn’t ready to leave. “He had a very good relationshp with coach [Vladimir Jovanovic]. He was comfortable with his situation and maybe emotionally, he didn’t want to change so drastically. It’s still closer to home.”
The decision to stay in Serbia helped Vesely expand his game, get a little stronger and move up some in the draft lottery, though last year he thought he would’ve gone somewhere between 10th and 14th.
“The most important thing was to play one more year, to get more minutes and to grow up on basketball side and in my personal life,” Vesely said. “I stayed a bit more and had a bigger role on the team.”
The Wizards have been scouting Vesely as one of the top players in his age group for the past three years -- he edged Ricky Rubio out as FIBA Young Men’s Player of the Year for 2010. Coach Flip Saunders remembers the first conversation he had about Vesely two years ago with Milt Newton, the vice president of player personnel.
“He said to me, ‘You’re gonna love him, he reminds me a lot of [former league MVP Kevin] Garnett, from a standpoint of his energy and his motor,’ ” Saunders said. “And a guy that plays like that, as a coach, it becomes very difficult for you not to find somehow to play him I think he’s going to fit right in. he’s got to work a little bit on his shot. He’s got good mechanics. I think all that will all come.”
Wizards vice president of basketball administration Tommy Sheppard went to watch Vesely in the Serbian championship game last month and several members of the basketball operations staff were in New Jersey two weeks ago when Vesely held an individual workout for Washington, Sacramento and Toronto. Saunders admitted that Vesely didn’t shoot the ball very well during the workout, but “no matter what he did, he did everything in an explosive manner.”
Because of his slender frame, Saunders expects to use Vesely in similar fashion to Garnett in his early years. “He was a three-man because wasn’t physically big, but what happened is he got to shoot over guys and when he became a four, he was able to put the ball on the floor,” said Saunders, adding that he will help Vesely make the necessary adjustments with his jump shot. “He’s got some things he does that are minor adjustments. He backs away when he shoots it. He’ll see good improvement. He’s going to be able to do a little bit of everything.”
Vesely desperately wanted to play for Washington, as he told his agent, Arn Tellem, that the Wizards were his top team because it played an uptempo style and had some solid young pieces in Wall and JaVale McGee. “It was my motivation to be in Washington and play with those great young players,” Vesely said. “We have a lot of work to do. I think we can work hard.”
Grunfeld said that both sides were pleased with how everything turned out. “It worked out well for us, and it worked well for Jan too, because he comes to a team that has a player like a John that can make the game easier for him...He comes from a good system. Partizan is a very good team. His game is very well suited for the NBA game.”
Dan Steinberg has a great breakdown of the news conference at the Bog.