Before the NBA lockout, Washington Wizards Coach Flip Saunders gave forward Andray Blatche a book on leadership to read in the coach’s continual quest to transform Blatche from jester to shepherd on one of the youngest teams in the league.
Hey, what was the name of that book, anyway, Andray?
“I forgot the title of it because I only read like half of it,” Blatche said with a sheepish laugh after practice Saturday night. “Because after a while it was like, all right, I got the message.”
Give him extra credit for honesty, but whether that message has finally seeped through, after years of haranguing, will be a determining factor this season as the Wizards hurdle into a whirlwind 66-game schedule that begins Dec. 26 at home against the New Jersey Nets.
Saunders didn’t sound particularly concerned with how seriously his book recommendation was taken. He is more interested in how Blatche acts than in him dropping into conversation references to John C. Maxwell’s “17 Essential Qualities Of A Team Player: Becoming The Kind Of Person Every Team Wants.”
“It’s not a matter of what you read, it’s what you come out of it with,” Saunders said. “He has matured some. I know people hear that a lot. He’s getting to the point now where you’re six years in the league [and] you know it’s time for you to really step up and be in the right direction. He hasn’t talked about individual goals; he’s talked about team goals. That’s the first step in terms of showing maturity.”
That was not particularly evident at the onset of camp, when Blatche, 25, could not name two of the team’s rookie draftees — Jan Vesely and Shelvin Mack — players whom he theoretically is supposed to be guiding.
Even so, Blatche said he has done some offseason reflection. The nearly five-month long lockout gave him even more time to “do research on our faults,” struggles that have resulted in a 68-178 record the past three years, with no playoff appearances.
“We just had a goofy team,” he said. “Everybody know that. We just had like a lot of goofballs around. I just knew it was time for a change of something. Playing around hasn’t gotten us nowhere. Playing around got us sent home early. Never got us to where we want to get at the end of the season. This is my time for me to step up and say, hey guys, follow me on the path I want to go, and the path I want to go is winning.”
With guard Roger Mason Jr., forward Rashard Lewis and newly acquired big man Ronny Turiaf, the Wizards aren’t lacking for veteran leadership. So Blatche does not have to be the leader, just a leader.
Mason, who played with Blatche from 2006 to 2008, said he has noticed a change in Blatche’s approach.
“I don’t want to jinx it, but the Andray Blatche I see right now is more mature,” said Mason, who lives near Blatche and sometimes carpools with him. “I think he’s embracing it. That’s the difference this year.”
While recovering from a broken foot last season, the 6-foot-11 Blatche averaged career highs of 16.8 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.5 steals. But he said that he personally has slacked on “defense and effort,” and this year he aims to lead by example.
“I took in some of the stuff from the book and I’m just trying to do my part,” Blatche said. “If guys see me doing my part, then guys will do their part.
“We got a new [practice] gym, new colors, new scheme, so it should be a new attitude for everybody. And a new approach. And definitely a new record.”