By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
RICHMOND, Oct. 2 -- Veteran Washington Wizards center Etan Thomas did not participate when training camp opened Tuesday after a recent cardiac test revealed an irregularity that could potentially be career-threatening.
Thomas, who was slated to compete with Brendan Haywood for the starting center job, learned of the test results late last week following a routine physical, according to Ernie Grunfeld, the team's president. Thomas remained in Washington on Tuesday awaiting the results of further tests.
The team has not set a timeline for a possible return, and Coach Eddie Jordan indicated that he did not expect Thomas to be available before training camp breaks on Saturday.
"It's shocking and our thoughts are with him," Jordan said. "We talked [Monday] night and he's very disappointed. He's concerned and we're all concerned, but everything is in the early stages right now and it's going to be some time before we know the extent of it after all of the medical examinations."
The absence of Thomas leaves the Wizards with only Haywood as a true center. Jordan said that Andray Blatche, who has played forward during his first two seasons, and veteran Tony Massenburg, who is attempting to make his 13th NBA team in a career that began in 1990, are also playing the position in camp.
Still, players said their main concerns are for the health of Thomas, who is the team's longest-tenured member and a player who is respected for his on-court toughness and off-the-court community involvement.
"When we heard about the news this morning I just gave him a prayer and I've had him in my thoughts all day," said forward Antawn Jamison, who has played with Thomas since the 2004-05 season. "It's tough to not know if you are going to play the game of basketball again. The only thing we can do now is pray that he's going to be able to play and that everything works out. The most important thing is his health and his family. This is one of those situations where basketball is very secondary."
Medical personnel in the NBA have been increasingly cautious with heart issues since the death of former Atlanta Hawks center Jason Collier in October 2005.
Collier, who had never had any major health problems previously diagnosed, died of a sudden heart rhythm disturbance caused by an abnormally enlarged heart.
In July 2006, the career of Los Angeles Lakers forward Ronny Turiaf was delayed when he underwent open heart surgery after team doctors diagnosed a major heart problem during an exam. After the surgery, Turiaf was cleared to resume his playing career, and he has been with the Lakers ever since.
In 2005, then-Chicago Bulls center Eddy Curry was diagnosed as having susceptibility to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a potentially fatal heart condition that was linked to the deaths of Hank Gathers and Reggie Lewis.
Curry was eventually traded to the New York Knicks, where he is entering his third season with the team. Former Minnesota Timberwolves guard Fred Hoiberg was forced to retire after the 2005-06 season when it was discovered that he had an aneurysm in his aortic root, a condition that could have been fatal had Hoiberg continued to play.
Grunfeld said the Wizards would be "cautious" while evaluating Thomas and said the team is awaiting the results of more testing before determining his status. Grunfeld added that Thomas had not had cardiac irregularities previously diagnosed.
"It's hard to swallow," said guard Gilbert Arenas, who has played with Thomas since 2003. "I know I went through a knee injury and that's nothing like what he's going through. I know it's going to take him awhile mentally to bounce back from it because it is his career being jeopardized. Etan and his family have to be strong and he has our support."
Wizards Notes: Arenas practiced at full speed and said he experienced no discomfort while playing on his surgically repaired left knee.
"No limits," said Arenas, who isn't wearing a brace to protect the knee. "Come on man, I work harder in the offseason than anyone. As long as I'm not running bleachers or anything, I'm cool."
However, Jordan said that he plans on monitoring his star guard closely throughout camp and the preseason so that Arenas is at full speed when the regular season opens Oct. 31 at Indiana.
"I'm watching him," Jordan said. "Maybe once or twice I'll tell him to take a play off."
Jordan is excited that his mentor, Pete Carril, is attending camp all week. Jordan and Carril were on the Sacramento Kings staff together, and Jordan considers Carril, who was a longtime coach at Princeton before coming to the NBA, to be a basketball legend.
Carril, who created the Princeton offense, spent part of Tuesday morning's practice instructing Arenas and Jamison on the intricacies of the pick-and-roll.
"When he speaks, everyone's listening because he's so respected," Jordan said. "It means so much for me to have him here with us." . . .
Rookie forward Dominic McGuire was held out of the evening practice because of a migraine headache. . . .
The team will hold one workout on Wednesday.