When Brendan Haywood came off the floor following practice Thursday morning and tore off his mesh practice jersey, he revealed a set of six-pack abs that could put him on the cover of Men's Health magazine.
Even better, despite having just gone through a hard, two-hour workout that featured a series of fast-break drills, Haywood wasn't even breathing hard.
"I feel real good," said Haywood, who is listed at 7 feet and 266 pounds in the Wizards' training camp media guide. "My body fat is down. My weight is in a good area. I'm not sure if it's the best shape of my career, but I'll take it. I feel good about where I am."
Haywood, 24, credits his conditioning to smart eating and hard work during the offseason. Haywood sightings were common this summer at MCI Center, where the fifth-year center put himself through an intense training program that included weight-room work, conditioning drills and basketball drills aimed at polishing his post moves.
That Haywood is taking the upcoming season seriously is a good sign for the Wizards, who will face no shortage of talented big men in the Eastern Conference.
The Heat has Shaquille O'Neal, who has bulked up to 340 pounds and has declared himself fully healed after suffering a series of nagging leg injuries last season.
The Pistons have Ben Wallace and Rasheed Wallace, the Pacers have Jermaine O'Neal and the Cavaliers re-signed two-time all star Zydrunas Ilgauskas. The Knicks were so desperate for a big man, they signed Jerome James and his 4.9 points, 3.5 rebounds per game career average to a five-year, $30 million contract and recently added Eddy Curry through a trade with the Bulls.
"I look at it like I have a long ways to go to catch the top guys," Haywood said. "I want to stay hungry. I don't ever want to think that I reached or accomplished anything because I still have a long ways to go. There's the elite centers and then there's a second group. I'm in there right now so I have to keep working and climb my way to the top."
If the Wizards are to compete with the East's top teams and make a run in the playoffs, they will need big seasons from Haywood and Etan Thomas, who is feeling good after being limited to 47 games because of an abdominal strain last season.
The team also added veteran Calvin Booth, giving the Wizards a legitimate third center for the first time in the three-year Eddie Jordan era.
In 68 regular season games last season, Haywood averaged a career-high 9.4 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game while shooting a crisp 52.4 percent from the field. Haywood's production increased during the playoffs and he earned the confidence of teammates by battling Miami's O'Neal and Alonzo Mourning during the team's second-round playoff series.
"It's good for us to seen Brendan working so hard," said all-star guard Gilbert Arenas. "Most big men, they stop working at a certain point. This is his fifth year and he's gotten better each year. He was in the gym the whole summer working on his body, trying not to get out of shape; so he should have a good year."
Haywood wants to become a more consistent low-post scoring threat for a team that is primarily built around the scoring talents of Arenas, Antawn Jamison and new swingman Caron Butler.
Last season, Haywood excelled in his role as the last line of defense but had to make the most out of limited touches on the other end. He had double-figure shot attempts in only nine games and picked up many of his points on offensive rebounds.
Haywood can also improve at the foul line after making 60.9 percent of his free throws last season, a mark that matched his career average.
"I worked hard this summer on my right-hand jump hooks, my left-hand jump hooks, turnaround [jumpers], I want to continue to develop a 15-foot jump shoot and make my free throws," Haywood said. "If I can do those things, I'll be putting up 15 and 10."
Wizards Notes: Rookie second-round pick Andray Blatche has not attended training camp practices because he's doing rehab work in Washington, according to the team. Blatche's right arm and left chest area were injured when he was shot on Sept. 25. The team has not set a date for his return. . . .
Kent Davison, head coach of the Development League's Roanoke Dazzle, attended Thursday's practice. The Wizards are one of three NBA teams affiliated with the Dazzle, which opens its season in November. The Wizards will have the option of sending any first- or second-year player down to Roanoke for seasoning. Prime candidates include Blatche, second-year center Peter John Ramos and rookie guard Donell Taylor.
Friday's practice will be shown live on NBA-TV at 11 a.m. and re-air at 7 p.m.