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NBA players push to get physically ready for a season

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Brendan Haywood had to wonder at times if it was all in vain. Waking up early, heading to the gym to lift weights, run sprints and put up jumpers to prepare for a season that was going to begin . . . when, exactly?

Over the past five months, the NBA lockout left many players in limbo about how hard they needed to attack individual workouts and pickup games, because labor negotiations would begin with hope and abruptly come crashing down, making the possibility of a lost season more likely with each passing day.

“It was tough to mentally stay prepared,” Haywood, the former Wizard and Dallas Mavericks center, said on Tuesday. “You’re working and you say to yourself: ‘What am I doing this for? Why am I running this sprint if there is no season?’ Then you get home from a hard day’s work and get a bad report on the news and it’ll totally crush your spirits. But you’ve got to be a pro and train like the lockout was going to end at any time.”

The lockout isn’t over yet, but when players and owners reached a tentative settlement last Saturday that would lead to training camps opening on Dec. 9 and a 66-game regular season starting on Christmas, players were immediately put on alert that they had less than two weeks to get in shape and get ready for a serious grind.

Free agent guard and former Wizard Roger Mason Jr. and Andray Blatche had been working out with trainer Joe Connelly for several weeks, but decided to expand it for other local players needing to participate in organized conditioning drills and five-on-five games while they remain barred from team facilities. A league source said the NBA will soften the lockout on Thursday and allow players and free agents to work out at practice facilities. Players cannot have contact with coaches or team officials. Team trainers and strength coaches can assist players in the weight room or with injuries but cannot be on the floor, conduct drills or participate in workouts.

Since Haywood shares an agent with Mason and Blatche, he got wind of the sessions at Capital Sports Complex in District Heights and flew up from his home in Charlotte to take part.

“This sort of took on a life of its own,” Connelly said. “It’s not something we necessarily set out to do. But all these guys could benefit from being in better shape and my goal is to have them over-prepared for training camp.”

The workouts have also included San Antonio Spurs guard Gary Neal, Memphis Grizzlies draft pick Josh Selby, and Wizards restricted free agent center Hamady N’diaye. Other players hoping for another NBA shot, such as former George Washington stars Pops Mensah-Bonsu and Mike Hall and former Georgetown big man Mike Sweetney, have also used it as an opportunity to get better.

John Wall has committed to participating when he returns from his home in Raleigh, N.C., and second-round pick Shelvin Mack will also join after he arrives this weekend. Connelly said more Wizards would come and possibly replace the other players as they return to their respective teams.

“You can run six miles a day, lift weights or whatever, but there is no way to get in basketball shape except by playing basketball,” Blatche said. “It’s going to help, so that when training camp comes, everybody here should be a step ahead of everybody. I just wish that more teammates was here. I prefer us to all be together and getting our chemistry working right now.”

JaVale McGee and Jordan Crawford are making last-minute preparations in Los Angeles. Chris Singleton is working out in Tallahassee. Rashard Lewis has been training in Houston, Trevor Booker in Dallas. Kevin Seraphin is expected to play his final game for Spanish team Caja Laboral on Wednesday. Jan Vesely likely won’t arrive in Washington from the Czech Republic until Dec. 8, as he waits for the lockout to get lifted in order to get a work visa.

In a letter to players obtained by The Washington Post, National Basketball Players Association executive director Billy Hunter explained that the antitrust lawsuit settlement could happen soon, and that the players’ union could be re-established by Friday, which would allow for a new collective bargaining agreement to be ratified by early next week.

Blatche was uncertain whether or not restricted free agent Nick Young, his teammate for the past four years, would return. “I mean, it’s 50-50,” Blatche said. “The last time I talked to him, he said, ‘Yeah.’ Then he said, ‘I don’t know.’ Then he said he’s going to see what’s going on. After that, I left it alone. That’s one of my best friends. He’s a great player. He’ll definitely help us out. At the same time, it’s a business. He’s got to do what’s best for him, in his life.”

If Young decides to go elsewhere, Mason is interested in returning to his hometown team.

“It’s been real good, getting some chemistry back with Dray . . . because there is the potential for me to be back here,” said Mason, who worked out in an old Wizards T-shirt on Tuesday. “It’s definitely at the top of my list, along with going back to New York. I’ve heard from a few guys. Carmelo Anthony. Ray Allen reached out to me and told me he’s pushing for me in Boston. Hopefully, I’ll have some good options.”

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