For the first month after the Washington Wizards‘ season ended in the Eastern Conference semifinals, Bradley Beal tried separating himself from basketball, his first love. Not only did the Wizards guard not touch a basketball, but he barely watched the playoffs — the sight of other teams vying for the championship that he covets was too much for Beal.
The past few weeks, though, have seen Beal return full-throttle to his life of basketball both on and off the court, from training in his hometown of St. Louis to chatting with free agent teammates such as Trevor Ariza and Marcin Gortat in an effort to ensure the Wizards return their nucleus to build on last season’s success.
Beal said he had dinner in Los Angeles with Ariza, who has been courted by a number of teams beyond the Wizards, including the Lakers, the Clippers, Miami, Dallas, Utah, Cleveland and Phoenix.
“He’s kind of up in the air, but he loves D.C. for sure,” Beal said during a Wednesday phone interview. “We had a successful season this past season, and he’s a big reason why. He’s definitely considering coming back, and hopefully the front office can lure him back in so we can keep building on last season.”
The Wizards’ front office reeled in their other high-priority free agent in Gortat. The center agreed to a five-year, $60 million contract Tuesday, giving the Wizards a much-needed interior presence while allowing them to reap more fruit from a trade that brought Gortat over from Phoenix last October in exchange for the injured Emeka Okafor and the No. 18 pick in last month’s draft, which was used in Syracuse point guard Tyler Ennis.
“I’m so happy; it’s ridiculous,” Beal said. “I’m probably more excited than he is. I talked to him two days before the deal, and I was telling him how much we need him back. He was excited, and it sounded like he wanted to be back. That’s a big piece to our team moving forward, and it should be great for recruiting other players to help us keep building something special.”
As for whom else the Wizards might pursue to fill out a roster that has eight open roster spots following the Gortat deal, Beal is leaving that in the hands of President and General Manager Ernie Grunfeld and the rest of the Wizards brass.
“I feel like we have the right pieces to build on from last season,” Beal said. “It was up to us to get that first year of experience in the playoffs moving forward and now we hope we can build on that for next year. Chemistry is the most important thing. If we can have a guy come in, know his role on the court and be willing to sacrifice when necessary, we will be fine as a team.”
Following a strong sophomore season in the NBA that included a breakout performance during the Wizards’ playoff run, as well as the back injury suffered by Wizards swingman Martell Webster that will sideline him for the next three to five months, the sharpshooting Beal knows his role with the Wizards will elevate this coming season. In preparation, the primary focus of his offseason workouts with personal trainer Drew Hanlen has been ballhandling and his mid-range jumper.
“The biggest thing has been ball-handling,” said Beal, who turned 21 last week. “That’s always something I want to continue to improve on. I’ve also been working on my mid-range shot and creating space so that I can make plays off the dribble and come off screens to make shots in the lane.”
Beal will get a chance to show off these skills later this month when he joins Team USA for camp in Las Vegas beginning July 27. As one of 28 NBA players selected to the 2014-16 Team USA pool in January, Beal will be trying out for a spot on the roster that will compete for the FIBA World Cup in Spain beginning on August 30.
In the meantime, Beal has been running his basketball camp at Chaminade, his high school alma mater, in St. Louis. On Wednesday, Beal took time to talk with the nearly 100 campers about the importance of hydration as a part of Gatorade’s “Beat the Heat” program.
(Insert your favorite LeBron James cramping and Gatorade joke here)
Beal, who was named Gatorade’s national player of the year in 2011, is the first NBA player to represent and speak on behalf of the program, which also includes the likes of Houston Texas star J.J. Watt.
“For one, I drink Gatorade all the time and with me being the Gatorade Player of the Year back in high school, it just made sense and I’m honored to be the first NBA player to represent the program,” Beal said. “It’s just all about teaching kids the importance of staying hydrating and drinking Gatorade, especially in hot summer months, so they can avoid getting injured or sick when they play sports and be the best that they can be.”