Jan Vesely has been in Los Angeles for the past month and has already become all too familiar with the traffic jams and In-N-Out burgers. He has watched David Beckham and the Galaxy in the MLS playoffs, and become so enthralled by the excitement at the Kings’ NHL games that he can’t wait to see the Capitals at Verizon Center.
Eva Kodouskova, the girlfriend that made Vesely an Internet sensation with a draft-day kiss, visited him for a week and they spent some time relaxing on the beach, walking along the Santa Monica pier and driving around the city. Vesely has tried to make the most of his time, but he intended to come to America for a different purpose — to play NBA basketball — so the past few weeks have been more frustrating than fun.
“It’s boring man,” said Vesely, 21, whom the Washington Wizards selected sixth overall pick last June. “Boring.”
The labor dispute between the NBA and its players has produced an unexpectedly long delay for Vesely, the high-flying, 6-foot-11 forward from the Czech Republic. He considered entering the NBA draft two summers ago but elected to stay with Partizan Belgrade in Serbia one more season to take on an enhanced role to get better prepared for the league.
But after helping his team win its 10th consecutive Serbian title, Vesely’s dedication to joining the NBA has come up empty thus far, with the league and its players’ union still unable to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement. The first month of the regular season has already been canceled.
“It’s disappointing,” he said. “I was ready to play in the NBA. You wait one more season for Partizan, then you have lockout and you have to wait longer. It’s November and nothing is happening for me. It’s really sad, you know?”
When asked how he’s making ends meet before he gets his first NBA paycheck, Vesely declined to comment.
The NBA work stoppage has now carried on for 136 days but could reach a resolution this week, with the league issuing a revised proposal last Thursday that the players’ union plans to review with its 30 team representatives before making a decision. For Vesely, an agreement can’t come soon enough.
“I’m ready to start tomorrow, if they make a deal,” Vesely said in a recent telephone interview. “I’m hoping they’ll make a deal with something.”
The energetic forward established a reputation in Europe for his above-the-rim play, but he has been focusing on improving his jumper, ball-handling, strength and conditioning in Los Angeles with trainer Rob McClanaghan — who ran Vesely’s individual pre-draft workout in New Jersey, which convinced the Wizards to select him. He has two-hour workouts five to six days a week and has shared the court with several NBA players, including teammate JaVale McGee, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, Tyreke Evans, Brook Lopez and Robin Lopez.
Vesely hasn’t been in Washington since he arrived for his introductory news conference and a short workout with Coach Flip Saunders and his staff. The league has banned him from the Verizon Center and making contact with Wizards officials and coaches and Vesely hasn’t spoken with any teammates except McGee, who is represented by the same agency. “It’s not real yet,” Vesely said. “I’m in L.A. working out. I’m not with the team and I’m not in Washington. It’s not like I feel like I’m in the NBA.”
Vesely is just the third NBA player to come out of the Czech Republic, joining George Zidek (the 22nd pick of the 1995 draft) and Jiri Welsch (the 16th pick of the 2002 draft), but neither player lasted more than four seasons in the league. The country is known more for its NHL imports — such as current Capitals Michal Neuvirth, Tomas Vokoun and Roman Hamrlik and former league MVP Jaromir Jagr. Vesely said he didn’t exactly get a celebrated welcome when he returned to his home town of Ostrava last summer.
“People back home don’t know. Basketball is not big in Czech. But my friends and my family, they was happy for me. They know that I get drafted. But basketball is not so popular in Czech.”
Vesely has vowed to make basketball more relevant in his native country, but he bypassed playing for the Czech Republic in a few exhibition games last summer because he didn’t want to risk injury. He also declined immediately returning to his team of the past three seasons, Partizan, after the lockout began — even with an NBA out.
Vesely has already negotiated a tentative buyout agreement with Partizan, but it won’t be completed until the Wizards can contribute the $500,000 that teams are allowed to give. He is now considering returning to Serbia if the lockout continues much longer.
“I don’t know. We’ll see,” he said. “I was focused on Washington, to get there, in the NBA, but things look bad.”