By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
BERLIN, Oct. 13 -- Washington Wizard Andray Blatche entertained a group of visiting Special Olympians from the Berlin area Monday afternoon by reciting President John F. Kennedy's famous "Ich bin ein Berliner" line from his groundbreaking speech here in 1963.
It took Blatche three attempts to get it right and his pronunciation was way off, but the youngsters giggled in delight and were soon swarming the 6-foot-11, 248-pounder and following his every move during a basketball clinic the Wizards conducted after practice at the O2World Arena.
While Blatche was perfecting his German, veteran center Etan Thomas kept another group busy with a series of bounce passes and free throw attempts.
One wide-eyed young man simply stood next to the 6-10, 260-pound Thomas, craned his neck and uttered: "Du bist gross!" ("You are big!")
Told the translation, Thomas smiled and gave his young admirer a fist bump. Soon, a string of Special Olympians were lining up to give Thomas a pound.
"There you go," Thomas said. "That's how you do it."
The Wizards and New Orleans Hornets are on a seven-day trip to Berlin and Barcelona for two preseason games as part of the third NBA Europe Live, the league's globalization program. Players and coaches from the teams will participate in clinics such as this one throughout the week.
In addition to picking up a few new fans Monday, the Wizards also got in some work in preparation for Tuesday's game.
Because the team arrived early Sunday morning after a nine-hour flight and practiced on Sunday and Monday, players had not yet had time to do much sightseeing, though point guard Antonio Daniels said he planned to go Monday evening with his wife, who made the trip, as did several other players' spouses.
"From what I've seen, it's a great city so I do want to try to get out and experience it a little more," Daniels said as he wrapped a pair of ice bags around his 33-year-old knees. "Thing is, we're getting in a lot of basketball too so there's not that much time. If you think about it, this week is going to go by real fast. Game [Tuesday night], flight to Barcelona and practice and then a game Friday night and we fly home."
Forward Antawn Jamison, who participated in Monday's practice and could play as soon as Friday night, planned on meeting his parents for some sightseeing as well. The Jamisons flew in to meet their son and see Berlin for the first time.
"I know that they're real excited about it," said Jamison, who suffered a contusion on his knee during the first preseason game at Dallas and missed games against Memphis and Detroit. "That's one of the reasons why I wasn't going to miss the trip. It's always special when you get a chance to come to a place like this, a place where you've never been and may not get to again. It's a beautiful city and people have really made us feel welcome."
Like his players, Coach Eddie Jordan had yet to see much of the city as of Monday morning: He's been too busy breaking down tape, planning practices and thinking about his team.
"I'm trying to get some sleep where I can," Jordan said.
Jordan's expectations for Tuesday's game are pretty straightforward: The main goal, as always, will be to get out of the game without any more injuries. After that, Jordan wants to see improved flow on offense, more cohesion on defense and continued improvement from the team's young players, including Blatche, Dominic McGuire, Oleksiy Pecherov and rookie JaVale McGee.
"Number one, it's organization," Jordan said. "We want them to play hard and stay organized. Those are the two more important things. Now, there are going to be some breakdowns in execution because it's early, so you expect that. But we want to see improvement at the defensive end especially. Our spacing defensively, our rotations defensively and then you want to rebound. If we can concentrate on those things, we'll be in good shape."
So far, the most positive thing to come out of the preseason has been Jamison's rapid recovery. When he went down hard and rolled around the court in agony after his knee buckled while playing defense during the first quarter in Dallas, Jamison and just about everyone else in the building feared the worst.
However, Jamison said the contusion is healing quickly and he anticipates no problems once he does return.
"I've been real fortunate because it felt so painful at first and then when I woke up the next morning it was all swollen but now, it's really feeling a lot better," Jamison said. "I think you'll see me back out there very soon. Even though it's the preseason, I don't like missing any games."
Wizards Notes: Guard Juan Dixon participated in a few drills but is still bothered by a bad right calf muscle and his status for Tuesday night's game will be determined after the morning shoot-around. Dixon, whose spot on the roster is all but guaranteed, was kicked in the calf during practice on Oct. 4 and has not played in the preseason. . . .
The O2World Arena sits about a football field's length away from the last standing stretch of the wall that separated East and West Berlin. That portion of the wall runs parallel to the Spree River, which cuts through the city. . . .
McGuire is not a big fan of Pecherov's skills as a language teacher. When McGuire asked Pecherov, who speaks several languages, how to say: "Hello, how are you?" in German, Pecherov tried to teach him the Russian version.
"That doesn't do me any good here, Pech!" McGuire said. "We're in Germany, man!"