Bradley Beal was in Baltimore, on Wizards assistant Sam Cassell’s old turf at legendary Dunbar High, so he had to expect what followed: A heavy dose of trash talk and tales from his coach about how he used to dominate the court on which they stood.
“He tried to show me some banners, like he was the greatest to come out of Dunbar,” Beal said, shaking his head on Thursday before leading shooting drills during a skills camp held by the Washington Wizards at the school.
Beal gazed up at the banner-covered walls, etched with the names of former NBA players who won state and national titles for the Poets: Tyrone “Muggsy” Bogues, Reggie Lewis, Reggie Williams, David Wingate and former Maryland star Keith Booth.
Cassell’s Dunbar teams in the late 1980s didn’t have the same level of success, but Beal still let him have his moment even though Cassell’s name was nowhere to be found on any of the banners.
“With Sam, you can’t believe everything he tells you,” Beal said as he looked around.
If Beal ever brought Cassell to Chaminade High in St. Louis, they would be assured of seeing some acknowledgment of Beal. Earlier this month, Beal returned home to have his No. 23 jersey retired at the school where he won a state championship as a sophomore and national player of the year as a senior.
Beal said the recognition from Chaminade “was probably the greatest moment of my life” and added that he didn’t expect to receive the honor so soon.
“Some people were saying they should’ve retired it my junior year in high school. I was like, ‘Nah,’ ” Beal said with a laugh. “It was tremendous. It was very emotional, because just a few years ago, I was in high school. I can basically remember every game I played in. And everything that the school did for me. The support they’ve given me, it really truly meant a lot. It just shows the hard work that I put in.”
With Wizards training camp set to get underway on Sept. 28, Beal is now focused on leaving more of a mark on the professional team that drafted him third overall in June 2012. After waiting patiently for most of the offseason for a stress injury in his right fibula to heal, Beal is healthy and anxious to attack his second season after working out with his personal trainer back home and later Cassell since returning to Washington.
“Everything has been good. My game has been improving. [I'm] putting the ball on the floor a lot more and my confidence is still sky high,” Beal said. “I’m ready for this year and I couldn’t be more excited with the team that we have. And hopefully, starting next week, we’ll have a good start chemistry wise and we’ll go from there.”
The Wizards have high expectations for the upcoming season but suffered a setback this week when they lost Emeka Okafor for an indefinite time with a herniated disk in his neck and Chris Singleton for at least six weeks with a broken bone in his left foot. Beal said the injuries shouldn’t keep the Wizards from targeting the playoffs.
“It’s tough, because those are two big keys to our team,” Beal said. “It will be difficult, because Mek was our big five. At the same time, we have other bigs and they are going to have to step up from the jump and come in and be able to dominate. Chris is a big asset for us, because he was a mismatch on both ends of the floor. Hopefully, we’ll be able to figure it out. We’ll be fine.”
Beal had to learn a difficult lesson about taking time to let his body heal as a rookie, as he dealt with lower leg injuries and a wrist injury and missed 26 games. He said he has to “stop being hard-headed” and advised his injured teammates to take their time before coming back.
Forced to ease his way into intense workouts, Beal was cleared for basketball-related activities in July but waited another month before competing five-on-five. Beal was unable to participate in summer league or Team USA minicamp but believes he still had a productive summer and got better despite the delay.
“I didn’t skip a beat,” Beal said, adding that he hopes to stay injury free next season. “I started off slow [but] my recovery process was where I wanted it to be. Nice and slow. Eventually, I got to where I am now. And I just have to continue that and continue to get better.”
ESPN.com recently listed Beal as one of the five top candidates to have a breakout campaign next season, because he will be able to play with point guard John Wall for an entire season and build upon an encouraging stretch of play before he got hurt. When asked about the list, Beal nodded his head in agreement.
“It could be the year,” said Beal, a member of the all-rookie team last season. “I don’t pay attention to that stuff, but individually, that’s definitely my goal to be able to step up and be able to do well on both ends of the floor. My game has improved a lot and hopefully, I’ll be able to showcase that.”
Feeling that Beal’s interview was taking a little too long, Cassell urged him to hurry up so they could get back to helping the kids (Wizards guard Garrett Temple and former Bullets Larry Stewart and Mike Riordan, who actually played in Baltimore, were also involved in the camp). Cassell then took some time to reflect on his time at Dunbar, which led him to have a successful, 15-year NBA career that included three championships and one all-star appearance.
“This was our sanctuary,” Cassell said. “This court was clear at all times. You didn’t see too many people walking through the court. If were weren’t practicing this court was clear. You had to walk around the court. It’s different seeing the kids playing on the court right now. [Former Dunbar Coach] Bob Wade used to always say, ‘Only real basketball players are allowed on this court.’ ”
And Cassell certainly has fond memories of the gym. “This is where my groundwork, my roots started right here…Unfortunately, my name is not on one banner over here,” Cassell said before cracking a smile, “but basketball is a team sport.”