Jarvis Hayes streaked past a defender and appeared to have a clear path to the basket when he flipped up a finger roll. Easy bucket, Hayes thought to himself, until Jared Jeffries came bounding toward him like a 6-foot-11 pogo stick to swat the ball out of the air.
Jeffries's hand, Hayes recalls, was almost two feet above the rim. "He's touching the top of the square going for a block," Hayes said in amazement. "This guy has got some rise in his legs."
Rising has never been the problem for Jeffries, the Washington Wizards' third-year forward. "It's the coming down," said Jeffries, who tore his right anterior cruciate ligament after an awkward landing in practice 20 games into his rookie year. "But if I can jump like that again, I know I'm good to go."
The knee is really back this time, Jeffries said, and so is his game. Gilbert Arenas, another player who has had a shot pinned by Jeffries in training camp at Virginia Commonwealth University, declared earlier this week that Jeffries was the player on the Wizards' roster most likely to have a breakout season. Jeffries won't argue.
"I'm the type guy, I can give you 12 points, 12 rebounds, four or five assists, three of four blocks. I can fill a stat sheet," Jeffries said. "I'm confident, and I think the most important thing in this league is confidence and feeling comfortable on the court."
Jeffries struggled with both ever since he suffered a season-ending knee injury in December 2002. He worked hard after his rookie season and was the only Wizard to appear in all 82 games last season, averaging 5.7 points and 5.2 rebounds in what he considers his "real" rookie year. But he hadn't recovered physically or mentally. Jeffries was careful in his cuts, precautious in his penetration to the hoop and alert of his altitude.
"You might recover physically [from a serious injury] within a year, but I think it takes almost a year and a half, for me . . . to really get over it and getting back to what I want to do basketball-wise," Jeffries said. "I know what I can do, but I didn't get a chance to show what I can do. Mentally, I didn't know I could do this at that level."
Those worries have dissipated, Jeffries said, following a summer in which he played non-stop basketball, from two summer league stints with the Wizards in Orlando and Las Vegas to spending two weeks in Los Angeles training with reigning league MVP Kevin Garnett of the Timberwolves to playing competitive basketball against the likes of the Hawks' Al Harrington in Bradenton, Fla. Jeffries also said he watched old film of his college days at Indiana to remind himself of the skills that made him the 11th pick in the draft two years ago.
"I think when the Wizards drafted me, one of the things Michael Jordan had in mind for me was being a Scottie Pippen-type player because I can handle the ball. I work well with the ball. Pass the ball well. Rebound well," Jeffries said. "Not many people that are my height, 6-11, can do all those things."
Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan said Jeffries's skills as a passer and decision-maker can make him a valuable asset in the Princeton offense, "We'd like for the offense to go through him, so he can make reads and deliveries," Jordan said. But Jordan expects Jeffries's greater contribution to be on the defensive end, where Jeffries's long wing span can disrupt passing lanes and alter or block shots.
"He's a younger version, defensively, of Scottie Pippen, except he's longer," Jordan said. "He can just roam. He never gives up. He just has to get to that real mental side of how Scottie played on defense. I think Jared has a whole lot of that, but obviously, it takes experience."
The Wizards have until Oct. 31 to pick up the fourth-year of Jeffries's rookie contract worth about $2.03 million. Wizards President of Basketball Operations Ernie Grunfeld said he hasn't made a decision on Jeffries but the team is likely to pick up the option -- especially if he continues to show that he is fully recovered.
"With my knee getting back to the way I needed it to, and with me getting my confidence in it, I can really kind of step up and play the game like I want to," Jeffries said.
Wizards Notes: The Wizards waived forward Rich Melzer and guard Alpha Bangura on Monday, reducing their roster to 18 players as the team prepares for its preseason opener against the Pacers in Muncie, Ind., on Monday. . . . Etan Thomas (abdomen) and Brendan Haywood (right knee) both sat out parts of practice Saturday but neither injury is considered serious.