Wizards forward Andray Blatche prepared to face his mentors

By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 4, 2010; 11:28 PM

Andray Blatche often greeted it with rolling eyes or sulking. He never understood why Antawn Jamison, Brendan Haywood and Caron Butler were so hard on him, so unfair with a young guy who entered the NBA out of high school and was still trying to find his way.

It wasn't until after those players were gone that it sunk in. They weren't being overly critical when they told Blatche he was squandering talents and ability at his size that most people would envy.

They weren't picking on him when they told him the importance of being in good physical condition in order to handle an 82-game regular season, and possibly the playoffs. Sometimes blunt, sometimes harsh, they rarely let up on Blatche.

But as Blatche shifted from being an occasional tease to a reliable go-to guy in the final 32 games last season, the words those veterans shared with him repeated over and over again in his mind.

"Came to me like clockwork," Blatche said. "Once I got on the court, I knew what to do. It clicked into me, it was automatic."

Blatche will have a reunion this week with the former teammates he now refers to as mentors. The Wizards open the preseason Tuesday in Dallas - where they will face Haywood, Butler and DeShawn Stevenson for the first time since a trade deadline deal that yielded Josh Howard and salary cap space. The Wizards get Jamison and the LeBron James-less Cleveland Cavaliers two days later.

Although he has respect for those players, Blatche said he wouldn't lose his focus when he steps on the floor and they are wearing different jerseys.

"It's going to be kind of awkward at first, but it's part of basketball. If I dunk on Brendan, I'm going to slap him on the [rear and say] 'Good try,' " Blatche said with a laugh. "But I'm going to go out there and compete and give it my all. I'm going to go in there and do what I got to do."

Blatche, Gilbert Arenas, Nick Young and JaVale McGee are the only four players remaining from the team that entered last season with a core that included Jamison, Butler, Haywood and Stevenson.

Arenas will enter a season without being on the same team as Haywood for the first time in seven seasons; without Jamison for the first time in six; without Butler for the first time in five; and without Stevenson as his back-court mate for the first time in four. McGee is the only member of the quartet of holdovers who didn't have at least one playoff run with the Wizards' old nucleus.

"It's going to be fun to go out there and see their faces; see what they are going to try to do," said Young, who joined the team in time for its first-round playoff ouster in 2008. "They were great teammates. Just how they carried themselves off the court, how hard DeShawn and Haywood and Caron worked out there, it carried over. But this year, they're on a different team and everybody is going out there with a mind-set of winning."

The Wizards are rebuilding around No. 1 overall pick John Wall, but much has changed for Blatche as well. He turned his breakout performance after the trade deadline - when he averaged 22.1 points and 8.3 rebounds - into a three-year, $28 million extension that will keep him in a Wizards uniform through 2014-15 and give him a salary increase of nearly $3 million this season.

No longer a young guy who needs to finally step up, Blatche is also one of just five players on the 18-man training camp roster with more than four years of NBA experience. He is working his way back after breaking his foot in June and is also attempting to assume a greater leadership role. "I came here when I was 18. They showed me the ropes, what to look out for and basically made me smarter on the court," the 24-year-old Blatche said. "I've grown a lot definitely as a player, on the court and off the court. I was taught well.

"Even at the time they was being hard on me, but they was actually was helping me," he said. "I took it in and now I'm just trying to remember all the things 'Tawn and Brendan showed me. I'm going to try to do the same thing for John and [Trevor] Booker and [Kevin] Seraphin and all the young guys. Basketball is like a circle; what you get, you've got to give back out."

Notes: On the eve of Wall's preseason debut, Blatche inadvertently helped the rookie prepare for what he has in store in the NBA when he popped him in the eye with an elbow while chasing down a loose ball. Wall got a cut on his eyelid but didn't need stitches, as Coach Flip Saunders said the team trainers just "glued it up."

"We had to rough him up," Blatche said, jokingly. "Welcome to the NBA. Let him know what he's going to get a taste for. Hopefully, he'll wipe it off and do the job he does." . . .

Arenas practiced Monday after missing the past two days with a sprained right ankle. Saunders said he was still unsure if Arenas would start in Dallas. "Don't know. Don't really know. He's been off a couple of days. We'll have to wait and see how he feels tomorrow," Saunders said about Arenas. Kirk Hinrich (bruised right shoulder) also practiced and will be available against the Mavericks.

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