Awvee Storey entered Monday night's preseason opener against Cleveland late in the first quarter and immediately looked like the hungriest player on the floor.
It didn't take long for the 6-foot-6, 225-pound forward, who has been working for a chance to stick on an NBA roster since leaving Arizona State in 2002, to cut backdoor, receive a pass from Michael Ruffin and lay the ball off glass for two points.
Later, Storey drove baseline and converted a tough layup in traffic. He buried a three-pointer and out-hustled and out-muscled the Cavaliers for four offensive rebounds.
In 22 minutes, Storey made 6 of 7 shots, scored a team-high 14 points and grabbed six rebounds, leading many in the crowd to reach for a program and ask, "Who is number 35?"
One person who wasn't surprised by Storey's performance during Washington's 116-94 loss was Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan.
"He's been playing like that all of training camp," Jordan said. "Hitting the offensive glass, getting put-backs; he's very aggressive. He stroked the ball today -- he's been getting better at shooting the basketball. He's made a heck of an impact on my mind about where he's at with our team."
Storey's basketball career has taken him from Chicago's West Side to stardom at Arizona State to professional stints in South Korea and Venezuela.
However, the one place where Storey has always wanted to ply his trade has also been the toughest to reach. The 28-year-old played for the Dallas Mavericks' summer league team in 2003 and got a taste of NBA life during a nearly two-month stint with the New Jersey Nets last season.
Storey got into nine games with the Nets before being released in December. Now, the basketball forward with a boxer's build is trying to earn his way onto a stacked roster with the Wizards.
The Wizards already had 15 players under contract -- the maximum allowable once the regular season opens -- before inviting Storey to camp. Not that Storey cared.
"I don't let myself get caught up in worrying about who's under contract and who isn't, you know, that numbers game," Storey said. "I've seen guys do that before and they end up worrying about that instead of focusing on basketball. All I can do is play and see what happens."
Storey helped his cause on Monday night, and the final six preseason games will be critical for players like him and guard Billy Thomas, who was the Wizards' final cut last October but played 25 games for the Nets after initially signing a 10-day contract.
Storey and Thomas have also been among the team's hardest workers since camp opened, and even if they are long shots to make Washington's final roster, they know that 29 other NBA teams will be watching the preseason games.
Storey was one of the first players to pop into the locker room yesterday morning, and long after his teammates hit the showers following practice, he was on the court with center Brendan Haywood, stroking jump shot after jump shot.
"I know I can play in this league," he said. "I know that. Last year, I was able to experience the different speed and different level of play you see in an NBA game and that helped me understand what to expect. I'm always going to believe that I can do it, and if I fall short, I'm going to know that I gave it my all."
Storey's chances of sticking on an NBA roster will be helped if he can consistently make outside shots and if he can put the ball on the floor and beat people off the dribble.
"Those are the parts of my game I've been working on since leaving college," Storey said. "I'm one of those 'tweeners, so I have to show that I can do a lot of different things."
If Storey is looking for inspiration, he can find it in his own locker room, where veteran point guard Chucky Atkins resides. Atkins was undrafted coming out of South Florida in 1996 and didn't make it to the NBA until 1999 after stints in the CBA and overseas.
Now, Atkins is an established six-year NBA veteran who is being counted on to provide leadership and make plays for a team coming off a playoff appearance.
"I know what those guys are going through because I've been there," Atkins said. "I remember going to Vancouver my first year and outplaying all of the guys at my position, but they didn't keep me because they had guaranteed contracts.
"You gotta be a guy that really wants it. You gotta be a guy that's willing to take constructive criticism. You gotta be a guy that's resilient. A lot of things aren't going to go the way you want them to go in this league, so you gotta take that hit and be even stronger the next time."
Wizards Notes: Guard-forward Caron Butler sat out Monday's game with a groin injury but practiced at full speed yesterday and will play tomorrow against the Spurs in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Jordan went with a starting lineup consisting of Gilbert Arenas and Jarvis Hayes at guard, Jared Jeffries and Antawn Jamison at forward and Haywood at center on Monday but said he may change things as the preseason goes along.
The start time of tomorrow's game has been changed from 7:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.