Wizards' Young Aims for Breakthrough
2nd-Year Shooting Guard Ready to Raise His Game

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 23, 2008

SAN ANTONIO, Oct. 22 -- After the Washington Wizards completed their morning shoot-around Wednesday, point guard Gilbert Arenas stood above the three-point line at AT&T Center tossing lobs toward the rim for Nick Young. When Young came soaring toward the hoop to complete the alley-oop, Arenas quickly offered a scathing critique of the dunk.

"Come on, you've got to do a windmill on that one," Arenas said.

Arenas threw another underhand lob and Young threw down a reverse jam. Arenas gave lukewarm approval, but Young's aerial acrobatics served as evidence that he was ready to make his preseason debut against the Spurs. For Young, a post-practice slam dunk competition with rookie JaVale McGee helped calm concerns about the sore left knee that kept him from playing the first five exhibition games. It also quieted his skeptical teammates.

"They was saying I can't jump no more. I still got it," Young said with a laugh. "I'm trying to get in the dunk contest this year."

With Arenas out at least the first month of the season with a left knee injury and Roger Mason Jr. joining the Spurs, Young wants to assume a greater role in his second season. And, the Wizards are hopeful that his performance on Wednesday -- when Young was 7 of 8 from the floor and finished with 15 points in a 100-95 victory -- is a sign of things to come for the 6-foot-6 shooting guard. Young made his first five shots, some with Spurs defensive ace Bruce Bowen matched up against him, and brought his teammates out of their seats when he came around the baseline for a one-handed slam near the end of the third period.

Young's enthusiasm for the upcoming season temporarily took a backseat to fears about his health when a nagging knee injury -- which he blames on "basic wear and tear" -- sidelined him after the Wizards scrimmaged on the final day of training camp in Richmond.

"I was worried," Young said. "I've seen Gil and everything he went through. When the littlest thing happened, I was thinking the worst. But I'm healthy. I feel great."

The Wizards' team doctors and trainers informed Young that the injury wasn't serious, but might require surgery at the end of the season. Young is wearing a protective brace but said he doesn't think his knee will limit him this season. Friday's preseason game against Cleveland in Columbus, Ohio, will offer him one final tuneup before the season opener against New Jersey next Wednesday. "I need it," Young said, adding that Mason's move to San Antonio had him working tirelessly this summer. "I thought my opportunity was there. Roger went where he thought was good for him. He got more money, can't knock that. I just said, 'It's my time now.' Gil is telling me himself. With him behind me, I feel more confident.

"I hope I get more minutes [this season]. And get a chance to get out there and play my game. With Gil out, they need some people to score. I feel that I can do that. Last year, I did some good things that got my confidence going."

Young averaged 7.5 points as a rookie, and displayed flashes of his abilities, such as when he scored a career-high 27 points in a loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. "We know he has the ability to score, but we want him to be a good basketball player," Coach Eddie Jordan said. "He knows that in order for him to maximize his minutes on the floor, he has to make the extra pass. He has to help his teammates. He's got to defend better. And he's got to keep his concentration. He has a tendency to think about the offense when he's on defense. We're trying to eliminate that."

Young, a self-described "jokester," said teammates Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison told him he needed to take a more serious approach this season. But based on Young's new hairstyle, which he describes as a cross between a mohawk and rooster, Young can't help but being a little silly. "As long as that popcorn's popping and he can get it done on the court, I'm okay with it," Jamison said of the haircut. "He's looking good in practice, so maybe he should keep it."

Wizards Notes: Arenas said Wednesday that he is "a lot ahead of schedule," and could return in late November. Jordan said the team will remain cautious with Arenas, who signed a six-year, $111 million contract in July. "Gil's gone down this road before. He's tried to really enhance his rehabilitation on his own in previous surgeries," Jordan said. "But now he knows he has to be diligent, he has to be disciplined and follow the advice of the trainers and the doctors and he's done that."

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