Songaila Makes Practice Debut

Darius Songaila, second from right, posed with, from left, Ernie Grunfeld, Susan O'Malley and Abe Pollin in July.
Darius Songaila, second from right, posed with, from left, Ernie Grunfeld, Susan O'Malley and Abe Pollin in July. (By Joel Richardson -- The Washington Post)
By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Washington Wizards finally got a good look at their $23 million offseason acquisition yesterday when forward Darius Songaila practiced for the first time since undergoing surgery to repair a herniated disk in his lower back on Nov. 2.

The 6-foot-9 Songaila, who signed a five-year, $23 million contract with the Wizards in July, has shown steady progress through the rehabilitation process and was cleared to participate in contact practices for the first time.

Now, Songaila will attempt to work off several months of rust while trying to establish some level of familiarity with teammates he's never played with. Neither Songaila nor the team has established a firm date for a return to game action, but Songaila did say that he is shooting for after the all-star break, which ends Feb. 19.

"He went longer and was more physical than I thought he'd be today," Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan said. "It's a process, so there's no timetable or anything. He just looked good today."

As a member of the Chicago Bulls last season, Songaila missed the last 20 games of the regular season and the team's first-round playoff series loss to the Miami Heat with a fractured right foot; he hasn't played in an NBA game since March 10.

The former Wake Forest star averaged 9.2 points and four rebounds while shooting 48 percent in 62 games for the Bulls. He injured his back while playing for the Lithuanian national team in a FIBA World Championship tuneup game against the United States on Aug. 13 and tried to play through the pain during the tournament.

It was only after the tournament that Songaila realized he was dealing with more than muscle spasms. After it was determined that he had a herniated disk, he decided to undergo surgery.

One NBA scout, who requested anonymity because he was talking about another team's player, described Songaila as "a fundamentally sound big man who can play power forward and center in certain situations."

"He's a good outside shooter and a solid rebounder at both ends," the scout said. "Defensively, he's not especially quick laterally and he's not a power player, so he can get pushed around by bigger [power forwards] and [centers]. He'll help them spread the floor and he's a nice fit for what Eddie likes to do in that system."

As of yesterday, Songaila was just a rusty player trying to find his way around a basketball court again.

"It felt pretty good to be out there, but my legs fatigued faster than normal," Songaila said. "Definitely not 100 percent, but it felt good to be out there. We'll pretty much increase the level of activity as we go. If it feels good, we'll do a little more every day. I can't really tell you about a timetable or anything."

Songaila said he didn't feel any pain or discomfort in his back immediately after practice.

"I'm encouraged because I feel fine," Songaila said "I didn't feel any pain in my back. That's not really my concern. It's about building strength back in the my legs and getting that nerve to fire correctly in my left leg."

While Songaila took his first steps toward getting back into game shape, Antawn Jamison was resting his sore left knee, which has been a magnet lately for opposing players.

Jamison originally suffered a hyperextension of the knee when Boston's Delonte West lost his balance and fell directly into Jamison during Washington's 115-110 win on Saturday night.

Jamison briefly left that game but returned and finished with 23 points. During Tuesday's loss to Phoenix, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time again when Suns forward James Jones lost his balance and fell into the side of the same knee.

Jamison wasn't forced to leave the game but clearly wasn't himself. His nine points on 2-of-8 shooting and three rebounds represented one of his least productive games of the season, and a first-quarter air ball on a three-pointer suggested that Jamison doesn't have much lift in his legs.

After pulling down a season-high 16 rebounds in a win over the Orlando Magic on Friday, Jamison totaled seven in the win over Boston and the loss to Phoenix. He's averaging 8.1 rebounds this season.

"It's not too serious, just one of those things where it's kind of sore and I need to rest it a little bit," Jamison said. "I'll take a day, get some rest and be ready to get back out there."

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