Wizards' McGee Eager to Transform Himself Into Reliable Backup

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By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 11, 2009

JaVale McGee was walking around an area store last week with his cousin, Mario Coleman, when they spotted a toy from McGee's favorite character from his favorite movie of the summer, "Transformers 2." McGee purchased the Optimus Prime voice-changer helmet, then the self-professed video junkie went home and recorded a promo for his own version of the next installment of the action thriller, "Transformers 3: The Rise of McGee."

Calling himself, "OptiMcGee Prime," the second-year center posted a two-minute video on YouTube in which he spoke into a camera for a few minutes, saying such gems as, "One shall stand. One shall fall." The video proved two things. One, that McGee is still a kid at 21. And two, he has had a lot of free time on his hands since his rookie season ended in April.

"I was having fun with it," McGee said with a chuckle.

But McGee said he has done more than make silly videos this offseason. He has committed to an offseason program to add mass to his scrawny frame and worked on developing a consistent jump shot and some reliable post moves. As the Wizards hold their first mini-camp practice today in preparation for summer league games next week in Las Vegas, the 7-foot McGee said he is eager to take steps toward his own transformation from being a prospect with potential to a productive backup.

"I'm definitely transforming into a better player and transforming into what people didn't think I would be," McGee said. "I'm here to work as hard as I can to show that I can contribute to the team and get more minutes this year."

McGee certainly has his opportunity after the Wizards sent veteran big men Etan Thomas and Darius Songaila to Minnesota as part of the package that landed guards Randy Foye and Mike Miller. That left the Wizards with considerable depth in the backcourt, but an inexperienced frontcourt, with McGee, third-year forward Dominic McGuire, 23, and fifth-year forward Andray Blatche, who at 22 is still the team's third-youngest player.

Team President Ernie Grunfeld plans on adding an inexpensive veteran player to shore up the front line. But he added that Antawn Jamison and Brendan Haywood will account for at least 65 of the available 96 minutes per game at power forward and center.

Grunfeld said that he is "comfortable" with his young reserves and was willing to open up an opportunity for them -- especially McGee, who averaged 6.5 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.0 blocks and started 14 games last season.

"With JaVale, I think everybody sees the kind of potential he has and the only way to improve is with game-time conditions," Grunfeld said. "We want to bring JaVale along and give him some consistent minutes and see how he can develop."

The Wizards will hold mini-camp until Monday, then open up summer league play on Tuesday against Cleveland. With the Wizards dealing away the fifth pick, the team will focus on its young players, including McGee, McGuire and third-year guards Nick Young and Javaris Crittenton.

McGee said he was surprised when he heard about the trade, but realizes that he has to validate the faith that the Wizards have shown in him. "I'm definitely trying to show the coaches that I can do things that other big men can't. And anything Brendan can do, I want to be able to do," McGee said. "I was excited [about the trade]. I just felt like it was a sign that it was really meant to be."

McGee said he has added almost 10 pounds this summer and now weighs about 250 pounds, but added that he has been fueled by talk that he is too slight and too inconsistent to be reliable backup for Haywood. "It's definitely motivation," McGee said. "The young guys are the future. They don't realize that most of us are extremely athletic and fast. And sometimes, strength can be beat if you're fast enough. You can go around strength."

When the season ended, McGee flew to Los Angeles to train and played a few games in the Drew Summer League in Watts. He returned to Washington last month and has been a regular at Verizon Center scrimmages. "We have a pretty good team," McGee said. "We have a new coaching staff and I don't know what to expect. I hope there are just no biases and they give me a chance to earn my spot."


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