Wizards' Pecherov Patiently Waits for Chance to Play

Wizards forward-center Oleksiy Pecherov has played only in short stints against more traditional big men, like the Lakers' Andrew Bynum (17).
Wizards forward-center Oleksiy Pecherov has played only in short stints against more traditional big men, like the Lakers' Andrew Bynum (17). (By Mark J. Terrill -- Associated Press)
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By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Oleksiy Pecherov was in his favorite spot -- standing behind the three-point line, watching shot after shot splash through the net after the Washington Wizards concluded practice yesterday. After each made basket, Pecherov turned to teammate Nick Young to hoot, scream or shuffle his feet in an awkward dance he surely must've picked up in his native Ukraine.

Pecherov was having fun in one of his fleeting moments on a basketball court. On game nights, the 7-foot Pecherov is often relegated to sideline cheerleader, dressed in uniform and warmups mostly for show. Pecherov has played just 67 minutes in 10 games in this, his second season. And except for one game against Indiana, the only time fans at Verizon Center have seen the Wizards' 2006 first-round pick is when a video is shown of Pecherov grinning and flailing his arms during Dance Cam breaks.

"It's hard," said Pecherov, who is averaging just 3.3 points and 2.1 rebounds this season. "I've been healthy, but for some reason, Coach don't play me. But I stay positive. And I hope he will give me a chance."

Wizards interim coach Ed Tapscott might not have a choice now, with starting center Andray Blatche's collision with Phoenix's Shaquille O'Neal in a 103-87 loss on Monday night forcing Blatche to miss two to four weeks with a left knee strain. When the Wizards (9-35) face the Miami Heat tonight, Tapscott will have just 10 healthy players available.

Tapscott, who was the director of player development before being made the interim head coach in November, praised Pecherov's work ethic but said the forward-center's skill set made him reluctant to put Pecherov on the floor. "There aren't a whole lot of positions for 7-foot three-point shooters in the league," Tapscott said. "That's one of his strengths, obviously, but you have to do some other things.

"The one thing he's good at is rebounding, but right now, given our current situation, I need people on the box," he said. With Etan Thomas, Brendan Haywood and Blatche out, "this could be an opportunity for Pech to play the game we need him to play and not sort of a specialist's game. We're working on that."

Pecherov is a huge fan of another jump-shooting big man, Dallas Mavericks all-star forward Dirk Nowitzki, and even wears No. 14 -- the reverse of Nowitzki's 41 -- in honor of him. Among players with at least 15 three-point attempts, Pecherov ranks second on the team behind Juan Dixon from behind the arc at 37.5 percent (6 for 16).

The last time the Wizards were in Miami, they lost 97-77, but Pecherov had a season-high 10 points in 12 minutes. Pecherov played just six minutes in two of the next 23 games. "There are lot of good players in the NBA and in front of me, I understand," Pecherov said. "I hope sooner or later I get an opportunity to show everybody I can play."

Pecherov said he clings to past good performances -- like when he scored nine points in just five minutes against Chicago on Jan. 9 -- and has relied heavily on teammate Darius Songaila, a Lithuanian with whom he often speaks in Russian. Pecherov said Songaila "is like older brother for me."

Songaila says Pecherov has made several trips to his hotel room the past two seasons seeking his advice. Songaila joked that he hears a knock at the door and "I don't even have to get out of my bed. I just yell in Russian, 'I'm not opening up!' "

Songaila said he gives Pecherov the same message: "Keep working hard."

"But I'm working hard," Pecherov will say back.

At least one positive for Pecherov is that his parents, Ulga and Vladimir, and younger brother, Sasha, will come from Ukraine to stay with him in his Northern Virginia apartment the next few months, meaning that he won't have to spend countless hours on Skype to communicate with his loved ones back home.

But no matter how frustrating this season has been, Pecherov said he has no intentions of returning to Europe any time soon. The Wizards picked up his option for 2009-10.

"A lot of European guys can't handle it. They sit on the bench and for some reason, they break and they go play somewhere overseas. You've got to stay on top mentally," Pecherov said. "I came in the league and I feel like I have a lot of goals to reach and I'm not done here. I can't go back home. I want to compete and work hard and prove to everybody that I can play."

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