The Washington Wizards opened training camp here Tuesday on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University clad in cheerless black practice uniforms that appeared to lend a somber emphasis on the club's seven-year playoff drought.
Ending that run of ineptitude is the team's goal entering the new season.
"We've got to be the hunter," Coach Eddie Jordan. "We've got to be committed, aggressive and hungry for wins."
Jordan began the first day of the club's seven-month campaign with a lesson on the intricacies of the complicated Princeton offense, which the second-year coach plans to fully implement this season.
Jordan tried to install the offense last season but the young Wizards (25-57 in 2003-04, 13th in the Eastern Conference) failed to fully grasp the system, forcing Jordan to shelve it. This time around, the players said that they are much more in tune with Jordan's vision.
"It's only the first day of practice but, to tell you the truth, it went a lot smoother than last year," said guard Juan Dixon, heading into his third season with the Wizards. "Last year was rough trying to learn a new offense. Guys are pretty [familiar] with it now."
So eager was point guard Gilbert Arenas to get a better handle on the offense that he traveled to New Jersey with the coach for the Nets' first-round playoff series to watch how New Jersey guard Jason Kidd ran it from the point.
"[The players] are buying in," Jordan said. "The schemes work. We do what most teams do. You know you have to have those types of players. Our guys are committed."
The style of play should fit nicely with the athletic ability of the Wizards, Jordan said. Jordan successfully ran the Princeton offense as a top assistant with the Nets from 1999 to 2003, and the Nets won the East in 2002 and 2003.
Designed to spread the opponent's defense, the Princeton offense starts with players at four perimeter positions and a player stationed at the high post. Then the offense attacks, sending multiple players cutting to the basket.
If picks and screens are set correctly, players often find themselves with open shots. The Nets continued to run the offense after Jordan left, with the tandem of Richard Jefferson (18.5 points per game) and Kenyon Martin (16.7 and an all-star appearance) flourishing.
Jordan thinks that his offensive scheme can do the same for forwards Kwame Brown (nursing a toe injury) and Antawn Jamison, acquired from Dallas in the offseason.
"Jamison is a heck of a weapon to have, and a guy that can score so efficiently," Jordan said. "He doesn't have to break you down with one-on-one moves. He doesn't have to have a lot of time and space to do his work. When he catches it, he gets himself in position to catch and score. Whether he's sprinting down the lane or whether he's slashing to the basket, or whether it's a quick catch and take, or his ability to make perimeter shots and threes."
Jamison averaged 22.2 points two years ago for the Golden State Warriors and 14.8 points last year as a reserve for the Dallas Mavericks.
The success of Jordan's offense hinges on how effectively the team can pass and set screens. That requires unselfish play, not exactly a trait for which the Wizards are known. Brown complained last season that Arenas hogged the ball too often.
The 22-year-old Arenas, the team's top scorer last season, said he understands his new role.
"Antawn Jamison will lead the team in scoring this season," said Arenas, who finished last season with a career-high 19.6 points to go with five assists per game. "But [Jamison] told me that I have to continue to attack the basket. That's my style and the only way I'm going to be able to score and get assists. I have to keep going to the basket."
Wizards Notes: Brown said he expects trainers to reexamine his broken right pinkie toe Thursday. He is not expected to be available until mid-November. . . . Many Wizards remarked that forward Jared Jeffries appeared to be the team's most improved player after a strong offseason. Jeffries, the Wizards' No. 1 draft choice in 2002, averaged 5.7 points and 5.2 rebounds last season. . . . The Wizards' preseason opener is Monday vs. the Indiana Pacers in Muncie, Ind.