Blatche Is Showing His Skills

The Wizards, shown during Tuesday's first day of camp at VCU in Richmond, may need Andray Blatche to pick up some minutes at center.
The Wizards, shown during Tuesday's first day of camp at VCU in Richmond, may need Andray Blatche to pick up some minutes at center. (By John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)
By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 5, 2007

RICHMOND, Oct. 4 -- Gilbert Arenas drove down the lane and released a shot that looked like it was going to glance off the backboard and drop through the basket for any easy two points.

But Andray Blatche -- all 6 feet 11 of him -- read the play, shuffled over from his defensive position and pinned the ball high on the glass before grabbing it for a rebound.

It was an impressive display of anticipation, quickness and athleticism, and precisely the kind of play the Washington Wizards need out of Blatche on a consistent basis this season.

Blatche, who signed a five-year contract extension this summer, is three years removed from South Kent Prep (Connecticut) school and two years removed from a shooting that nearly took his life right before the start of his rookie season.

With a chance to grab a place in Coach Eddie Jordan's rotation sitting right in front of him, Blatche for the first time appears to be serious about turning potential into production.

During a training camp scrimmage yesterday morning, he was the most impressive player on the court, blocking shots, making passes and even making a 15-foot jumper off the glass like his idol, Kevin Garnett.

"I have an opportunity ahead of me and I'm not going to give it up," said Blatche, who has appeared in 85 games with 13 starts since the Wizards selected him in the second round of the 2005 draft. "I'm going to go ahead, work hard and try to take advantage."

With Etan Thomas facing a potential career-threatening health problem after a cardiac exam taken late last week revealed an irregularity, Blatche's role with the Wizards has changed.

After playing exclusively at forward during his first two seasons, Jordan has been working Blatche at forward and center, knowing that the team will need someone to carry minutes behind starter Brendan Haywood. Veterans Darius Songaila and Tony Massenburg and rookie Oleksiy Pecherov also have seen action at center, but Jordan is obviously intrigued by what Blatche can bring to his Princeton-style offense.

At center, Blatche is asked to work more in the low post but also is required to set screens, make passes from the high post, defend the paint and rim and most importantly, rebound. So far this week, the full range of his skills has been on display and Jordan is pleased with what he's seeing.

"I like his awareness," Jordan said. "He's playing very hard, making quick moves, blocking shots, playing really good defense -- he blocked a couple of shots right above the square [on the backboard] today and that was impressive. He has the confidence now and he knows that we have the confidence in him. We're trying to put him in the position where he can succeed, and he looks good."

Blatche said his progress is the result of a newfound commitment to working hard in the gym and the weight room. He said he gained six pounds of muscle this summer and is in much better condition than he was at anytime during his first two seasons.

"At first when I came in, I wasn't giving it my all in the gym," Blatche said. "Now, I'm starting to work out more, running, getting in the weight room. It's my third year in the league, so I either have to grow up or be the same player I've been."

Another part of that growing process must take place off the court. Blatche suffered a setback there this summer when he was arrested and charged with solicitation shortly before he was going to sign a new contract.

"It was a learning experience," Blatche said. "It was really just being in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people and I learned from it. I'm just happy that God blessed me to have the Wizards sign me for five years and I'm just happy to be still be able to do what I love to do."

Wizards Note: The team got a scare during Thursday's first practice when Antawn Jamison appeared to bang knees with Donell Taylor and slumped to the floor in pain. Jamison, who missed 12 games with a sprained left knee last season, wound up with only a bruised right shin this time and will be fine.

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