Wizards assistant coach Randy Wittman walked into the locker room after the team ended its eight-game losing streak with a 93-78 victory over Toronto, and darted directly toward Jan Vesely. Wittman grabbed Vesely by the shoulders, shook him around and screamed, “Great game! Great game!”
Vesely played little more than 16 minutes, but there was hardly a moment when his presence wasn’t felt. He played at an exhaustive, frenetic pace as if he had finally been unleashed. The 7-foot rookie from the Czech Republic finished with four points — on two crowd-pleasing dunks — five steals, two rebounds and an assist.
“I’m happy that I get a chance to show what I can do and how I like play,” Vesely said. “I’m happy that we won, and I hope we will continue this kind of game. I think we played team defense and we support each other and we didn’t play selfish so it was team win and teamwork.”
His enthusiasm was contagious, as the Wizards outscored the Raptors by 14 points when he was on the floor. Vesely got a steal 14 seconds after entering the game in the second quarter, setting up a jumper by Shelvin Mack that gave the Wizards a 21-20 lead.
He added two more steals in a 30-second span later in the period — intercepting a Jose Calderon pass that led to a fast-break layup for Jordan Crawford and stepping in front of Raptors big man Andrea Bargnani to deflect another Calderon pass. Vesely knocked the ball ahead, took a few dribbles and soared to the basket for a two-handed dunk. He swung on the rim to delight of his teammates on the bench and the fans.
Vesley then forced Toronto to take a timeout when he made a beautiful pass to Crawford for a layup. For the first time this season, fans got up from their seats and applauded the Wizards.
“Arms, energy, length,” Coach Flip Saunders said. “He’s got the knack of knowing when to get rid of the ball at the right time at the break to get it to the guard, knows when to keep that extra dribble and let the guard clear and bust out as far as that, as he’s long. He did a heck of a job on Bargnani when he was in there, he really frustrated him.”
In Vesely’s first 10 minutes on the floor, the Wizards went from trailing by one to leading by 12. “He got the game changer,” Trevor Booker said. “He did everything we needed him to do, and it was big. I’m sure his confidence is higher now. I hope it is anyway.”
Vesely missed the first seven games of the season dealing with a sore right hip and had an uninspiring debut on Sunday against Minnesota, with normal jitters contributing to a performance that was mostly memorable because he shot an air ball on his first free throw attempt. He also had a dunk, but he was eager to make up for it against the Raptors.
“It was first game, and I got a little bit nervous,” Vesely said.
The sparse crowd at Verizon Center was fired up by his energy, giving him a standing ovation after he dunked, collected another steal or passed. He saved his most thrilling play for the second half, when Mack tossed a lob pass that appeared to be out of his reach. Vesely used his long arms to guide the ball into the basket for an incredible dunk.
“That’s the new fan favorite right there — he took my spot,” Nick Young said with a laugh. “He brought that overseas swag here.”
JaVale McGee has been a highlight staple during his time in Washington, but he doesn’t have a problem with Vesely around to provide a little competition. “No, no, no. He’s good. Let him get his shine on,” McGee said.
After dazzling fans in Serbia for the past three years with his above-the-rim acrobatics, Vesely said he hopes to continue that tradition in Washington. “I played in Partizan, and that’s I think at Partizan they have the best fans and the loudest fans in Europe. I will do my best to get those fans in the gym and show them the team and that we can play good basketball.”