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Playoff Perspective

Laron Profit, Ready To Answer When Opportunity Knocks

By Kevin Merida
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 1, 2005; Page D01

Laron Profit woke up at 9 a.m. yesterday, went back to sleep, ate a late breakfast of Cap'N Crunch -- "I like to come to the game a little hungry" -- and watched an oldie-but-goodie DVD of Michael Jordan torching the Boston Celtics for 63 points. That was the education part of his morning.

Then Juan Dixon called, and Profit assured his teammate he was wearing a suit to the first Wizards home playoff game in eight years. A simple tailored brown suit, no tie. This was a significant decision for Profit, who's a casual, jeans kind of guy. But hey, his mother was in town from Delaware for the game, and he figured that's the least he could do for Bernetta Truiett -- look like he belonged to her.

Laron Profit says of riding the bench: "I just have to stay positive." (John Mcdonell -- The Washington Post)

"That's my backbone," Profit says. "She won't let me stay discouraged for long. She's the pump-it-up lady, reading me Scriptures on the phone, leaving prayers on my voice mail."

Profit has needed Bernetta Truiett's prayers and guidance to keep his focus, for riding the bench ain't easy. To squat and watch from a purple leather-cushioned folding chair? To hear the fans' adulation and to remember that once upon a time all that love was for you? That does things to your psyche.

"I'm human," says Profit, a 6-foot-5 guard who played in roughly half the team's games during the regular season and averaged 3.2 points per game. "I'm a competitive person. I do have days that I'm frustrated. . . . If you're competitive, it's going to burn. It's going to hurt."

On those days, it's nice returning to his Bowie home and getting one of his mother's voice mails: Don't doubt yourself.

Reading also helps, especially spiritual books like Bruce Wilkinson's "Beyond Jabez," the follow-up to his bestselling book about a little-known prayer in the Bible.

"Just because man may see you as one thing," Profit tries to remind himself, "God sees you differently. God looks at me as a star, as someone unique and special."

"In God's eyes," he adds, "I'm more than a guy sitting on the bench for the Washington Wizards."

The National Basketball Association is one of America's elite workforces, with only 360 full-time basketball playing jobs. If you make it here, you are Somebody. Never mind the rec ballers who say you stink. Don't even listen to the Bud-sucking living room commentators who dog you as a bench bum who doesn't deserve a uniform. Almost everybody in this league was great somewhere.

Laron Profit was Gatorade Player of the Year as a high school senior in Delaware. At the University of Maryland, he was twice an honorable-mention all-America -- and he earned a criminal justice degree. But from there it's been a struggle to get back to basketball's upper echelons. His road stops included time with the Guangdong Southern Tigers in China, Premiata Montegranaro in Italy and the Philadelphia 76ers summer league team. He has been on and off NBA rosters since he graduated from Maryland in 1999, but hasn't made a splash. Not yet. His playoff TV moment thus far was helping an injured Kwame Brown from the floor to the locker room near the end of Game 1 in Chicago.

"I think my mentality is like Ben Roethlisberger's," Profit says. That would be the former Pittsburgh Steelers backup quarterback who became a sudden sensation after starter Tommy Maddox went down. Now, in Pittsburgh it's Tommy Who? Profit likes that analogy. "I prepare my mind each week like I'm the starting quarterback, so when Tommy Maddox goes down I'm ready."

Or, more to the point, if Gilbert Arenas, Larry Hughes, Juan Dixon, etcetera, etcetera, go down, he's ready. In the meantime, Profit puts in his work. He arrived at MCI Center at 12:40 p.m. yesterday, did some shooting on the Wizards' practice court -- away from pregame distractions in the main arena -- and lifted weights. This is his routine.

And when the game started at 3 p.m., he sat and waited and studied.

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