Young Improves in the Nick of Time

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Washington Wizards rookie Nick Young was alone on a fast break in the third quarter against Portland on Saturday when he faced a tough choice for his first NBA slam dunk.

Should he pull out the off-the-backboard, between-the-legs dunk that wowed the veterans at practice a few weeks ago? Maybe he should go with a 360? How about doing something brand new?

Young took a few dribbles, planted his feet, sprang toward the rim and kept it simple. He whirled around the ball and hammered home a vicious one-handed dunk.

The sellout crowd at Verizon Center was amused but subdued. Most of his teammates applauded. Gilbert Arenas, watching the game in street clothes because of a sore left knee, curled his lips.

"Gil was mad I didn't do nothing" special, Young said with a laugh afterward. "He said, 'You got to do your dunks in the game if you want to get in the dunk competition.' I got to wait a little bit. I [had] to get that one in first."

After scoring a career-high 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting in the Wizards' 109-90 victory against Portland, Young said, "It feels like I belong" in the NBA.

He couldn't keep the grin off of his face at practice yesterday, but his teammates have done their best to keep him focused and grounded. "Don't get big-headed," Young said his teammates told him after the game. "They joke around a little bit with me. It's all fun. Gil said, 'You might go back to the bench.' "

Young has had limited playing time this season, with the exception of blowout losses against Boston and Denver. Coach Eddie Jordan tightened his rotation after the team started the season 0-5 and Young didn't play at all against Atlanta and Indiana.

Young said the adjustment from being a focal point at Southern California to being a seldom-used substitute in the NBA has been "hard." He was disappointed that he played just four minutes against Minnesota on Friday, after his parents, Mae and Charles, had flown in from Los Angeles to see him play.

Forward Caron Butler could see the frustration on Young's face and pulled him aside. "In Minnesota, the best advice I could give him was believe in yourself and stay confident," said Butler, who is trying to help Young in the same way LaPhonso Ellis helped him when Butler was a rookie in Miami. "I see flashes of, honestly, greatness out of the young fella. He's very athletic, a natural scorer."

When the team found out about an hour before tip-off on Saturday that Arenas wasn't going to play, Arenas singled out Young and started knocking on a door.

"He said: 'Opportunity is knocking. [You] have to take advantage of it,' " Young said.

Young entered the game midway through the third quarter and Antonio Daniels immediately looked to get him involved, passing up an open jumper to find Young behind the three-point line. Young hit the shot, and went on to score 10 points over the next six minutes. He connected on four shots in the period, which matched his field goal total through his first seven games, when he went 4 of 17 (23.5 percent). Young also recorded the first steal of his career in the third period.

"I was hustling. I dove on the floor. I was trying to get the attention of the coach, doing anything and everything I could out there, really," Young said. "You never know when I'm going to get thrown out there."

Jordan said his plan is still to rely mostly on his eight-man veteran rotation, while playing Young at the appropriate times. Asked what he expected out of Young tonight against Philadelphia, Jordan said: "You know the direction the roller coaster goes right? That's what we expect. He had some tough nights, moments, early in the season. All of sudden, he's at the top of the game, we hope he stays up there for a while."

Butler said the key for Young is staying humble. "That was one good night," Butler said. "In order to be a good player and great player in this league, it's got to be something that happens night in and night out. This league is about consistency."

Then, Young can get more creative with his dunks. "I can do a lot out there. Once [Jordan] starts to think I can dunk more and get in the game more, I will," Young said.

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