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Posted at 10:31 AM ET, 05/29/2012

Wizards’ Kevin Seraphin turns opportunity into a dream finish


“I surprised myself," Kevin Seraphin said of his improved play. (Mel Evans - AP)
The final week of the regular season, Kevin Seraphin left the Wizards’ locker room wearing a black baseball cap with white lettering that read, “It was all a dream.”

The cap was a reference to a classic opening lyric by the late rapper Notorious B.I.G., but Seraphin probably should’ve added a line to reference his final 25 games of the regular season that read, “come true.”

Seraphin was somewhat of a revelation after the Wizards traded JaVale McGee to Denver for Nene. Nene was certainly the centerpiece of the deal – providing a veteran center who brought some “credibility” to the locker room – but the deal gave Seraphin the opportunity to show that the team now has two offensively skilled big men on the roster.

After barely getting any run through the first 41 games, even on those nights when McGee seriously struggled, Seraphin proved to be a reliable option in the low block, tallying 22 games – including the final 16 – with at least 10 points and helping the Wizards pull out some impressive wins without Nene against Orlando and in Chicago.

“He’s the epitomy of what I talk about to all these young kids all the time, whether it was here or in my previous teams, ‘Your opportunity is going to come at some point. It might not be today, it might not be tomorrow, but when it comes you better be ready, because you might only get one,’ ” Coach Randy Wittman said. “And he was ready. He took off with it.”

Seraphin displayed an amazing soft touch, manipulating the rim on almost every jump hook and even dunks, and was able to score with either hand. He also had the range to be effective sharing the floor with Nene, Trevor Booker or even Jan Vesely. His confidence seemed to increase with every made basket, which he often followed by holding up two fingers to signify that the shot counted.

“I surprised myself," Seraphin said. “It’s difficult to play when you don't have confidence. I’ve been there, so I know. That's difficult. But when you have the confidence everything is different, trust me. After they gave me my opportunity, I just make a good step, a big step. I have my chance; they gave me some game time and, so now I'm a basketball player, so I'm a professional.”

Seraphin needed more than an opportunity to play to develop his confidence. He really needed time to get healthy and get adjusted to a new environment. His struggles as a rookie were largely because he arrived out of shape, was dealing with a knee injury suffered while playing in France and could hardly speak English.

“Everything was going slow for me, cause that was difficult you know,” said Seraphin, who also had to learn a different style of play in the NBA and was on a team that lacked any veteran big men on the roster to provide guidance.  Seraphin felt the need to get more playing experience during the lockout and chose to play for one of the toughest coaches in Europe in Dusko Ivanovic of Euroleague and Spanish League power Caja Laboral.

“It helped me a lot,” Seraphin said of the experience. “I worked out last summer, I worked out hard, I do not take a vacation. Even if we got the lockout and everything, I was like, ‘When I come back I have to be ready.’ ”

Seraphin still didn’t appear to be ready when season began, as he often looked lost and overwhelmed, committed cheap fouls on illegal screens in his limited action. His selection as the No. 17 pick in the 2010 draft was brought into question. But Seraphin was getting more comfortable in his surroundings and he was able to communicate better with his teammates and coaches. He showed flashes of his progress in Orlando and later in a surprising home win over the Los Angeles Lakers.

The arrival of Nene, his idol and a fellow South American whom he had been compared to from the moment he started playing, helped Seraphin turn the next corner. Seraphin shadowed Nene, followed his every movement – even his interactions with reporters – and soaked it all in.

“He was one of my favorite players in the league,” Seraphin said. “So that was like motivation for me cause I always tried to be better than him, and try to learn form him. I watch everything he's doing. I watch everything on the court, cause I want to learn, I want him to teach me, so I think that’s a good thing for me. I will try to do everything to learn from him.”

Nene also enjoyed having a player around who was willing to ask for advice, listen and follow through after it was disseminated. “He’s my younger brother, my rookie. I know he’s a second year player, but he’s my rookie. He react like a rookie,” Nene said of Seraphin. “He learn fast. It’s amazing, someone who play basketball for five years. That’s a gift, a special gift he has.”

By the end of the season, Wittman raved about how Seraphin’s improved play created so many options with style of play going forward. Wittman didn’t let up on Seraphin, often yelling at him during pauses in action or substitutions. Seraphin usually stood there and took it, nodding as he walked away.

“It’s just a pleasure to see. What every coach has is a whipping boy and he’s mine,” Wittman said with a grin. “So you always get a little more satisfaction seeing a kid like that succeed. I told him…’I’m going to stay on you even harder now, because I don’t want you to get satisfied.’ He’s got a lot of room to improve and become a better and better player, too. You always like to see that.”

Seraphin averaged 14.1 points on 53.2 percent shooting and 7.2 rebounds in 21 starts this season, but he already knows where he has to get better to build upon his success and make sure his “dream” stays a reality. “I need to improve on my rebounds. I get more offensive rebounds right now but I have to work on my defensive rebounds,” Seraphin said. “I’m only 22, so I need to work on everything. I can’t say now, ‘I got this. I got this.’ I got to work on everything.”

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