By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
For nearly his entire life, JaVale McGee has been referred to as "Pamela McGee's son."
After the Wizards selected the 7-foot, 237-pound McGee with the 18th pick in the NBA draft on Thursday night, a proud Pamela McGee -- an all-American basketball player at USC in the early 1980s who played two seasons in the WNBA -- was more than happy to reverse roles.
"I told him that now I'm JaVale McGee's mother and that's fine with me," Pamela McGee said after her son was introduced during a news conference at Verizon Center yesterday afternoon. "I always used to tell him: 'I gave you life so you're known as Pam McGee's son.' And he would say: 'No mom, you don't play anymore.' But now, I'll be JaVale McGee's mom. It's politically correct to say that now."
McGee, who will wear uniform No. 34, was exposed to the game at such an early age, he joked that he first picked up a basketball "when I came out of the womb." When he plays in his first NBA game, he will become the first player whose mother once played in the WNBA.
When Pamela played professionally in Italy, she'd take her toddler son along and he'd watch from a stroller at courtside. When she returned to the United States to play for the Sacramento Monarchs in 1997, young JaVale would tag along for practices and games.
It was during Pamela's time with Sacramento that JaVale first met his future NBA coach. Eddie Jordan, now entering his sixth season with the Wizards, was an assistant with the Sacramento Kings, who shared an arena with the Monarchs.
"He was probably just a little guy then," said Jordan, who attended the news conference. "But he's not little now. Look at him."
Jordan has a point.
Though the 20-year-old McGee obviously faces a learning curve as he adjusts to life in the NBA after playing only two years of college basketball at Nevada, there is little question that he has the physical tools.
He's not only a legitimate 7-footer -- that's no exaggerated height in the game program -- he also has a 7-foot-6 wingspan and runs the floor exceptionally well for a player his size. The most consistent aspect of McGee's game as a college player was shot blocking; he averaged 2.8 a game last season, 14th in the nation.
Had McGee returned to Nevada for his junior season, he likely could have played his way into the lottery of next year's draft, which is not expected to be nearly as deep as last week's.
However, after McGee and his mother sought advice from her NBA contacts, the decision was made to jump to the NBA. That was fine by the Wizards, who closely tracked McGee last season and targeted him as a possible first-rounder.
"Once I thought I was going to go first round, I talked it over with my family and everything," McGee said. "It thought that if I go back, you never know what's going to happen. I could have a bad season or I could get injured and have to stay another year so I just figured that since I was on the radar, I might as well go now."
Pamela McGee, who works in education, stressed yesterday that she still wants her son to complete his college degree but from a basketball standpoint, she felt that he was to take the next step.
And she should know.
After Pamela McGee helped USC win back-to-back national championships in the early 1980s and then won a gold medal in the 1984 Olympics, she coached in the WNBA and applied many of the coaching and training techniques she picked up as a player in Europe to instructional sessions with her son.
"He comes from a basketball environment where people care about the game and he went to practices and saw the hard work," Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld said. "I think those things all help."
McGee will get his first taste of NBA action later in the month when he plays in the Las Vegas summer league with Andray Blatche, Nick Young, Oleksiy Pecherov, Dominic McGuire, 2006 second-round pick Vladimir Veremeenko and other free agents.
"We're very excited," Jordan said. "Just watching JaVale, he's very talented. He's a 7-footer that's very athletic, he defends the rim and he can run. He just adds to our young core with Nick, Dominic, Pesh, Andray and now JaVale. You've got five positions filled with size, skill and talent for the future. The franchise is in good hands."