Mike Wise on JaVale McGee and the Wizards

By Mike Wise
Thursday, November 13, 2008

After the fans rose to put their hands together and raucously applaud a youngster they had never heard of five months ago, three words for Eddie Jordan:

Start the kid.

He's the only bona fide center the Wizards have. He's the only buzz generated from a buzz-kill start to a season. Even his name comes off the tongue nicely:

JaVale McGee, the Nevada rookie -- 84 inches of skill, sinew and serendipity.

The metabolism of a hamster, the length of the Pacific coastline, his age (20) is just two numbers ahead of his shoe size (18).

From the Silver State comes a 7-foot piece of gold.

McGee was but 11 months old when Jerry Sloan was named the Jazz coach in December 1988. Two hundred nineteen NBA coaching changes later, the kid is helping ensure Jordan does not become No. 220.

Facing the worst start in franchise history, worse than even last year's 0-5 eyesore, Jordan turned to his oh-so-young bench, which included McGee. Blocking three shots, changing the trajectory of at least 10 more, making Carlos Boozer think too much inside the paint, McGee played 27 of the most important minutes of his six-game pro career.

It wasn't the points (13) or rebounds (11) as much as it was the boundless energy and enthusiasm against the Western Conference's second-best team at the moment, the way most of the 14,000 or so who filed out of Verizon Center had the name of the kid on their lips.

Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison combined for 48 points and 17 rebounds, hit monstrous shots down the stretch and displayed the kind of veteran leadership necessary to pull their team from a serious opening funk. But the win was about McGee, how a sapling is already sprouting into a sturdy tree.

"We saw his learning curve in training camp," a visibly relieved Jordan said after his team's first victory. "Even then I said I've never seen, in all my NBA days, whether it was Kareem or George Johnson or any of the longest shot-blockers in the league, he was the longest and most athletic. He's really got an athletic base that's off the charts."

A couple of days before the season began, McGee leapt and gingerly dunked the ball in the basket before a shooting drill.

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