Detroit Pistons forward Ben Wallace, the league's leading rebounder and one of its most imposing interior players, had dominated the Washington Wizards for the better part of three quarters on Friday night. Yet when Washington's Jahidi White pulled down a rebound and went up for a one-handed dunk in the fourth quarter, even Wallace ran for cover.
"Guys look around for him in there," Wizards Coach Doug Collins said.
Heading into the final 16 games of the regular season, White will be a regular in the rotation, after missing most of the season while rehabilitating his left knee after offseason surgery. White, who has played in only three games after being the primary starter the past three years, will face Wallace and the Pistons again Tuesday. Then comes the six-game West Coast trip that will begin Friday and, along the way, offers up the Lakers' Shaquille O'Neal, Portland's Arvydas Sabonis and Golden State's Erick Dampier.
"If they want me to be a wild card, that's what I'll be," said White, who has 12 points, 10 rebounds and 1 blocked shot in 28 minutes. "I'll just go out there, play my game and give my body."
At 6 feet 9 and 290 pounds, White is more than just an enforcer.
"Jahidi brings you energy, hustle, toughness, that kind of stuff," Collins said. "He's never been a primary weapon offensively, but what he can do is dribble, penetrate. Throw him the ball and he'll catch it and dunk it. He'll get offensive rebounds and he'll take hard fouls and that's vital."
White won't replace starter Brendan Haywood and, at times, he will be the third option in the middle behind Charles Oakley, who brings more stability and poise since he's well-schooled on the schematics of the Wizards' system.
White missed out on much of the learning process while he recovered from surgery to remove a growth and repair ligament damage in his knee.
"You miss getting your timing," White said. "I've got to test myself out all the time. I know what I can't do, but I'm not quite sure what I can do. I don't feel like I'm still 100 percent, but I'm good enough to play. I just got to do what I can. I'm still not jumping like I used to or want to."
Sometimes he's not jumping at all, like when he didn't even attempt to get off the floor on a jump ball on Saturday night against Miami. White played just seven minutes against the Heat after getting a season-high 17 minutes on Friday against Detroit, when he spearheaded a fourth-quarter rally attempt that faded down the stretch.
White is hardly complaining about his limited minutes. In fact, if he doesn't get as much action as presumed at this point, he will deal with it. There were times this season when White and the Wizards didn't think he'd ever get off the injured list after an initial prognosis that he could be ready to play by January.
Even when he began practicing in December, he was too heavy and limited for Collins and others to think he would be a factor. However, White worked relentlessly to get back, sometimes too hard, which could have slowed his return.
"Going through a knee injury is such a long process," White said. "You can see how long it took me to heal and I'm still not all the way there. It takes a lot of patience because there's a lot of ups and downs. Sometimes I wonder if my knee is ever going to come all the way around. But that's not going to stop me from working."
Wizards Note: Players, coaches and team employees joined local and national celebrities at Strike Bethesda bowling lanes last night for a fundraiser that benefited Washington Sports and Entertainment charities.