Injured Star Back in Wizards' Orbit

oleksiy pecherov - washington wizards
Oleksiy Pecherov has been out since suffering a hairline fracture in his right ankle after stepping on a teammate's foot during practice on Oct. 29, but the 7-foot-0, 234-pound Pecherov could return to practice in 2-3 weeks. (Toni L. Sandys - The Post)
By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Gilbert Arenas surprised teammates and coaches when he stopped by Verizon Center practice court yesterday afternoon as the Washington Wizards worked out.

It was the first time that Arenas attended a practice since undergoing surgery to repair a partial tear in his left meniscus on Nov. 21. Arenas, who has not gone to a game or traveled with the team since the surgery, said he will be on hand for tomorrow's game against the Cleveland Cavaliers and Friday's game against the Phoenix Suns.

Arenas, who has grown a beard and was getting around with the aid of crutches yesterday, is expected to be out of action for at least three months but has kept in touch with teammates via text messages and phone calls.

"I'm doing fine," Arenas said, while waving one of his crutches. "Just getting used to these things."

Meanwhile, the Wizards (8-9) continue to adjust to life without their three-time all-star. With a win over Toronto on Saturday night, they improved to 5-4 in games since Arenas last played.

Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison have carried the bulk of the scoring load, Antonio Daniels has been solid as Arenas's replacement as the team's primary ballhandler, and other players have fallen in line by embracing their respective roles.

The absence of Arenas and veteran center Etan Thomas, who is out indefinitely following open-heart surgery, as well as an injury to rookie forward Oleksiy Pecherov has left the team with only 10 healthy players. But Pecherov is making steady progress and could be cleared to practice in two to three weeks.

The 7-foot, 234-pound Pecherov has been out since suffering a hairline fracture in his right ankle after stepping on a teammate's foot during practice on Oct. 29 and continues to wear a protective boot on his right foot while undergoing daily rehabilitation work.

The team's first-round pick in the 2006 draft, Pecherov played in his native Ukraine last season, signed with the Wizards this summer and figured to at least earn limited minutes in Coach Eddie Jordan's rotation.

Pecherov, who recently ditched a set of crutches, will likely require at least a week or two of practice and conditioning work before he is cleared for game duty.

"He's doing his due diligence with his rehab and that's going to be a good thing for his career," Jordan said. "We just want to be patient with it."

Already liked by teammates for his outgoing personality and cheerful manner, Pecherov said he has done his best to remain upbeat despite the injury.

"It's crazy," said Pecherov, who has a solid command of English. "No matter the sport you play, injury can happen and you have to just handle it even though in your mind, it makes you crazy. It's difficult to watch your team play without you but it's just a part of sports."

Adjusting to life in the NBA can be a challenge for any rookie, but Pecherov has also had to make unique cultural adjustments. He has quickly picked up some of the slang used by teammates. Following one practice during the preseason, Pecherov cracked up teammates and coaches when he mimicked one of Arenas's favorite lines by coming off the court and yelling: "I get buckets, son! I get buckets, son!"

Attending practices and being around the team for home games has helped him bond with teammates and his transition to life in Washington has been eased by the presence of his mother, Olga, and father, Vladimir, who flew over from Ukraine one week after he suffered the injury.

"It's good having my family here with me," Pecherov said. "My mother has been cooking for me and they are supporting me but still, it has been tough. I want to get back playing soon."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company