Blatche Is Ready to Raise His Game
Tuesday, October 3, 2006
On those rare nights last season when the Washington Wizards entered the fourth quarter at Verizon Center holding a comfortable lead, fans sitting behind the Wizards' bench begged Coach Eddie Jordan to "put in the kid."
On a few occasions, Jordan obliged. Jordan would signal for rookie forward Andray Blatche, who was less than a year removed from playing at a prep school in Connecticut.
In those moments, the 6-foot-11 Blatche would pop up, adjust his headband and jump onto the court like an eager puppy. Blatche appeared in 29 games and occasionally flashed the ability that encouraged the Wizards to draft him in the second round (49th overall). But mostly he was a late-game novelty on a veteran playoff team.
Starting with this morning's first training camp practice in Richmond, Blatche plans on changing that.
"I'm looking at this camp as my opportunity," said Blatche, who turned 20 in August. "I have to go out there and show what type of player I am. I feel that people didn't get the chance to see what I could do last year. I'm excited."
Blatche missed all of training camp and the preseason as a rookie after he was shot during an attempted carjacking Sept. 25, 2005, near his home in Alexandria.
A bullet ripped through a part of Blatche's right forearm, entered his left pectoral and exited the left side of his ribcage. On its way through his body, the bullet missed Blatche's heart by an inch.
Blatche was released from the hospital after a few days and was able to watch part of training camp from the stands, but the wounds caused by the shooting ruined any chance he had of making an impact as a rookie. (No arrests have been made and the case remains open, according to a spokesman with the Alexandria police department.)
While the arm wound healed quickly enough for Blatche to do shooting drills by November, the injuries to his chest made it difficult for Blatche to breathe properly, and his conditioning suffered.
"In a lot of ways, I look at this as his rookie year," all-star guard Gilbert Arenas said. "Last year at this time he was just lucky to be alive, forget basketball. Now, he's had a season under his belt, a whole summer and he's going to get a training camp and preseason games. People don't understand how important that is for a young player, especially for a kid who was just out of" prep school.
One thing Blatche did learn last year was that the NBA lifestyle did not live up to the hype. True, teams fly in comfortable conditions and stay in first-class hotels. But the seemingly endless loop of practices, shoot-arounds, games and flights is enough to test any athlete, let alone a 19-year-old who was coming off a 40-game prep school schedule.
"It's no joke up here, man," Blatche said. "I came into it thinking: 'I'm in the NBA. It's going to be fun.' But let me tell you, it's for real up here. There were times I was so tired, I couldn't even move. Sometimes you'd wake up and not even know what city you were in. I'd forget what day it was, who we were playing. Then you'd go to practice and couldn't even move your legs. It's a whole different world in this league. I learned that last year."