By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 8, 2008
After the Washington Wizards completed practice yesterday afternoon, most of the team's veterans headed off to the showers. But rookies Oleksiy Pecherov, Dominic McGuire, Nick Young and third-year forward-center Andray Blatche remained on the court running through offensive sets under the watchful eyes of Coach Eddie Jordan and his assistants.
Some of the extra instruction was intended to help Pecherov, who has yet to appear in a regular season game, get back into the flow because he had just completed his first full practice since going down with a hairline fracture in his right foot on Oct. 29. However, some of the extra attention was an attempt to instill the young players with the right mind-set.
Pecherov, the team's first-round pick in the 2006 draft, could be in uniform tonight when the Wizards host the Houston Rockets.
Jordan wants his young players to sharpen their focus and improve their preparation as the team gets ready to enter a crucial portion of the schedule.
The Wizards (17-15) have won three of their past four games but face a challenging stretch that includes tonight's game against Yao Ming and the Rockets (17-17). Houston is without leading scorer Tracy McGrady but has won two straight.
On Friday, the Wizards play at Atlanta and then host the league's best team, the Boston Celtics, on Saturday night. Next Monday and Tuesday, the Wizards have road games at Boston and at New York.
Following Sunday's 108-86 home win over Seattle, veterans DeShawn Stevenson, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler stressed the importance of getting more out of the team's young players. None of the veterans expressed anger. But Jamison, Stevenson, Butler and Antonio Daniels were not happy when they walked into the locker room Sunday morning and saw how Blatche, Young and McGuire were getting ready for the game -- joking, laughing and not concentrating on basketball.
Yesterday, the veterans changed the locker room arrangement, moving Young across the room to a stall next to Butler and McGuire next to Jamison. Blatche's locker will remain near Brendan Haywood, who has helped Blatche make the transition from playing forward last season to playing center this season.
Previously, the three young players all sat on the same side of the locker room, which often resembled a latter-day version of "Romper Room."
"The idea is to just have them closer to a vet and take them under our wing a little bit," said Butler, who is the team's co-captain along with Jamison. "Coach gives us a direction as captains and we follow through. . . . There is a lot that goes into being a professional on and off the court and as veterans, we want them to understand that."
Jordan added: "You can fall into a mode where you're sort of saying, well, the top seven or eight guys are going to play and we're over here so if I play well fine and if not, fine.
"And you have to fight against those temptations to be lackadaisical, you have to fight from losing your concentration. It's a heck of a fight. . . . It's tougher for them in a lot of ways. So, there are times to hug them and there are times to put a foot in their rear end, and right now is a time for that second part."
Jordan made it clear following Sunday's win that he wants better production from his bench. Roger Mason Jr., has been a steady presence at both ends of the floor all season, but Darius Songaila has experienced ups and downs and his minutes have fluctuated as a result.
Blatche is averaging career highs in scoring, rebounds and blocks but his energy level sometimes fluctuates as does his concentration level and effort in practice. Like all rookies, Young, McGuire and Pecherov are in the process of adjusting to life in the NBA.
"The biggest thing for a young guy coming to the NBA is to realize what it means to be a pro," Haywood said. "There are probably 400-something NBA players but only a certain amount of pros, guys who approach the game seriously. I'm one of the most fun-loving guys out there but when it comes time for business, I'm serious. You have to know the scouting reports, you have to know the plays, you have to have a routine. Right now, our young guys can't afford to be playing around like that because we're low on bodies and we need everyone to be productive."