Wizards say farewell to George Mason, still have work to do

October 10, 2012

Emeka Okafor and the Wizards take a last look at George Mason. (Tracy A. Woodward/The Washington Post)

The Wizards departed George Mason on Tuesday, leaving behind the campus hotel and the gym at Patriot Center, where they spent the past week getting to know each other and trying to figure out what kind of team they are going to be — especially until John Wall and Nene return from injury.

Most of the shenanigans of the past have been put aside, as the Wizards have assembled a group that appears attentive to coaching, open to criticism, and focused on working hard.

They have a professional attitude and approach, but they still have concerns about whether they have enough talent to compete at a higher level than years past. That should become more clear over the next month, with seven more preseason games ahead, including their lone home game on Thursday against the New York Knicks at Verizon Center.

About 2,100 fans trickled into Patriot Center for an open practice that featured a performance by rapper Wale, and a blue-and-white scrimmage that was divided into two 10-minute games, and another five-minute finale. Aside from an impressive scoring onslaught by Jannero Pargo, who didn’t appear the least bit hindered by a sore abdomen, the Wizards had few standouts. Both teams utilized the kind of ball movement that they will need to succeed without having a big-time stud around to carry them every night.

“The guys played hard and played together,” Pargo said. “We played unselfish. We made the extra pass and right now, that’s a big part of the offense – playing together.”

The Wizards had a pretty nice squad watching from the sideline, with Wall, Nene and Trevor Booker looking on from the scorer’s table and Trevor Ariza on the opposite, seated in a chair after a brief burn in the first scrimmage. They had a decent view of Pargo, who returned after missing two days of practice and Sunday’s loss in Charlotte to make a decent case for a starting point guard job.

Pargo scored 10 points in the first scrimmage, making two three-pointers, and felt so good that he buried a shot from just inside the halfcourt after the buzzer sounded.

“Everybody was doing a good job of letting me know the plays. Being out a few days, you forget. It was a good team effort. Fortunately, I was able to get hot,” Pargo said. “I feel pretty good. I wouldn’t say 100 percent, but it’s to the point that I can practice and fight through the pain that I do have.”

The white team, which included Bradley Beal, Emeka Okafor, Earl Barron, Martell Webster, Chris Singleton and Brian Cook, won the first scrimmage, 22-14. The blue team, featuring A.J. Price, Jordan Crawford, Kevin Seraphin, Jan Vesely, Cartier Martin, Steven Gray and Ariza, won the second scrimmage, 16-14.

The white team broke the tie, 13-10, in the final set.

Coach Randy Wittman complained about the fouls his players committed during their 100-88 loss in Charlotte and didn’t waste any time making an example of Singleton during the second scrimmage. Singleton came around a screen to defend Price and knocked him down as he shot a three-pointer.

“That’s a dumb foul,” Wittman shouted.

Wittman then got up out of his seat and immediately replaced Singleton with Cook. Singleton wouldn’t play again until the third final scrimmage and he appeared to have learned his lesson. He intercepted a pass, dribbled the length of the court, cocked the ball back behind his head and dunked with authority.

During an odd sequence in the final scrimmage, Wall asked for a basketball from Crawford, who was seated on the opposite sideline. As play convened on one end of the court, Crawford rolled the ball across the floor. Wall leaned over, picked it up, then rolled it back. But before the ball made it Crawford – and possibly to avoid anyone tripping on the ball when players went down to the other end of the court – Ariza scooped up the ball.

Wall appeared to be in decent spirits, despite his desires to be on the court playing. Before players were announced in front of fans, Price decided to show Wall some of his dance moves. He did a shoulder twitching dance known as the Harlem shake and Wall responded by doing the Dougie with a twist, as he lifted his shirt above his head at the conclusion. His teammates, including Price, laughed.

The newest Wizards were introduced first, with Beal receiving the loudest applause, and then the holdover Wizards went next. Wall was announced last. He grabbed the microphone to thank fans for coming out, then praised his teammates for working hard, then said, “I can’t wait to get out there so we can have an exciting season.” 

Wittman had ruled out Nene for two-a-days, but with the Wizards now back to a normal practice schedule, he couldn’t offer a timetable the return of his projection starting center/power forward.

“All I do is each morning, I come in, I ask the trainer who I got, who I don’t have. And that’s all I can worry about right now,” Wittman said. “I write down who I got and we formulate a practice plan and we come out here. And I’ll come back tonight and see who I got and who I don’t got. That’s my update.”

At the conclusion of the festivities, a select few George Mason students got to pick the Wizard of their choice to make a halfcourt shot so that they could have their school books paid for. Pargo, Beal, Crawford, Price and Webster all miss their shots. Earl Barron actually made a halfcourt shot after the game ended, but nobody chose him.

Before the fan event, Wittman joked that he couldn’t wait to see Wale perform. But once the hip-hop music blared at the conclusion of the scrimmages, Wittman shook hands with Wizards DJ Big Tigger and walked out. He was done with George Mason, but not done getting ready for this season.

“Camp goes through October,” Wittman said. “We’ve got things we’ve got to do better.”

Michael Lee has covered the Wizards and the NBA at the Washington Post since October 2004.
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