After Sizing Up His Potential, Wizards Went With 7-Footer

By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 28, 2008

Like many of the players selected in Thursday night's NBA draft, JaVale McGee could have returned to college for at least one more year of seasoning. But when the 7-foot, 237-pound McGee started getting word during his sophomore season at Nevada that he stood a decent chance of being a first-round draft pick, the 20-year-old center decided to make himself eligible.

"I was on the radar and figured that if I went back, I could get injured or you never know what can happen," said McGee, who averaged 14.1 points, 7.3 rebounds and a Western Athletic Conference-leading 2.8 blocks per game last season. "So I just decided to come out, work hard and make myself ready. I think I made the right choice."

The decision appeared to pay off when the Wizards selected McGee with the 18th overall pick. McGee, who will earn $1.16 million as a rookie, based on the NBA's salary scale, will be formally introduced during a news conference Monday at Verizon Center.

While acknowledging that McGee is not likely to make a major impact next season, Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld said McGee's combination of youth, athleticism, 7-foot-6 wingspan and shot-blocking skill made him too good to pass up.

As a freshman playing behind current Dallas Mavericks forward Nick Fazekas during the 2006-07 season at Nevada, McGee didn't make a start and averaged 3.3 points, 2.2 rebounds and 0.9 blocks in 10 minutes per game.

"He didn't really play that much as a freshman, but last year he really showed a lot of improvement, and we really liked him once we saw his mobility and his quickness," Grunfeld said. "He has good hands, he was a very good shot blocker in college and we think he has a chance to develop into a good player."

One of the intriguing aspects of this year's draft was the number of raw but talented big men chosen. McGee was selected after Brook Lopez (10th to New Jersey), Robin Lopez (15th to Phoenix), Marreese Speights (16th to Philadelphia) and former Georgetown star Roy Hibbert, who had the most experience of any center in the draft. Nevertheless, he fell to the 17th spot, where Toronto chose him as part of a prearranged trade that will send him to Indiana.

McGee most likely is at least a year or two away from being a true regular. Barring a roster-changing trade this summer, McGee will be slotted behind veterans Brendan Haywood and Etan Thomas as well as Andray Blatche.

Grunfeld considered trades that would have moved the Wizards up or down in the first-round draft order Thursday night. A league source said Grunfeld dangled the 18th pick -- as well as the conditional future first-round pick Washington has coming from Memphis because of the Juan Carlos Navarro trade -- to teams that picked higher in the round. However, he found no takers.

With the 47th overall pick in the second round, Grunfeld selected Bill Walker, a talented forward from Kansas State who has battled knee injuries, but later traded Walker to Boston for cash considerations. The trade had little to do with Walker and everything to do with the fact that the Wizards, who will have 13 players under contract if they are successful in re-signing Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison, expect to have no room for another developmental player.

"We just didn't have the roster room so we shopped the pick and came up with the best deal we could," Grunfeld said.

Wizards Notes: Grunfeld said he plans to retain assistant coaches Mike O'Koren, Phil Hubbard and Wes Unseld Jr., whose contracts expire over the weekend. . . . Washington is in the process of adding non-drafted players or veteran free agents to its summer league roster. The Wizards will play in the Las Vegas Summer League from July 14 to 20.

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