Thomas Is Cautious, But He Looks to Return

Etan Thomas:
Etan Thomas: "My heart is fine. They want to run . . . more tests and make sure that my sternum is fully healed." (By Haraz N. Ghanbari -- Associated Press)
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By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Etan Thomas received a warm ovation when he appeared on the giant video screen that hangs over the court at Verizon Center during yesterday's game between Washington Wizards and Dallas Mavericks.

It was the first time Thomas has attended a game this season and he was treated to a victory as the Wizards beat the Mavericks, 102-84. Thomas, who underwent heart surgery on Oct. 11, said he hopes to play again this season.

Thomas has attended practice in recent days but doctors have yet to clear him for contact work and the team has not established a timetable for his return. Thomas underwent surgery to repair a leaky aortic valve, an invasive procedure that requires breaking open the sternum.

"Once my sternum heals, it will be like any other break," Thomas said. "You have to be careful initially to make sure that it is healed fully before you come back. That is the point I am at now. My heart is fine. They want to run a few more tests and make sure that my sternum is fully healed."

Thomas, who will wear a protective vest over his chest, said he is eager to play but is leaning on the advice of doctors.

"They're being a little bit extra cautious, which is understandable," Thomas said. "I'm kind of ready right now, but they're being a little bit extra cautious so we just have to let them do all the tests that they feel are necessary and then I'll be back with the team."

Thomas, who was expected to compete for the starting center job with Brendan Haywood going into training camp, has appeared in 347 games with 66 starts in six seasons with the Wizards.

Last season, he averaged 6.1 points and 5.8 rebounds in 65 games. His return would provide added depth at center, at which Haywood and third-year player Andray Blatche have played well this season.

Recently, rookie Oleksiy Pecherov has seen action at center as well after he was cleared to play after missing the first 35 games of the season with a severe ankle injury.

"I'm not going to come back and just everything immediately goes back to the way it was," Thomas said of his role. "I have a hill to climb with that because I've been out for a while but my definite goal would be to come and play the best that I can."

Thomas also said he does not think he and Haywood will have any more issues. The two have engaged in at least three physical altercations in recent seasons. Thomas was suspended by the team for two games following a fight with Haywood early last season and Haywood was suspended for one game during the 2005-06 season following another incident.

"All of that is kind of water under the bridge," Thomas said. "I'm going to come back and be competitive. That's how I'm supposed to be. . . . It's not a matter of me versus him. That's not really the issue."

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