The Washington Post

Wizards enjoying return to George Mason

Instead of the familiar, every-day comforts of that intimate practice court in the bowels of Verizon Center, the Wizards are back at George Mason’s Patriot Center after a one-year hiatus, and training camp has a different, more collegiate feel this season.

With players staying at a nearby campus hotel, they can throw on hoodies and walk to their rooms before and after practices rather than head home to their houses, apartments or condominiums. The close quarters also allow for players to get more familiar with each other, away from the required team meetings and meals.

“I always like it,” Coach Randy Wittman said of getting away for camp. “I’m old school. I did it – we lived in dorms back in those days instead of nice hotels. No room service, you had a roommate.”

The mad scramble to make plans after the lockout prohibited the Wizards from having training camp at George Mason last December, but they were able to return when the schedule returned to normal.

Wittman believes the more confined setting will be beneficial to a team trying to incorporate rookie Bradley Beal and veterans Emeka Okafor, Trevor Ariza, Jannero Pargo, A.J. Price and Martell Webster. The 19-man roster only features 10 players who were on the team last season, and John Wall and Nene are both sidelined with injuries. With so many new faces, the Wizards have to develop familiarity quickly, especially with their first game on Sunday in Charlotte.

“Guys want to get together and hang out in their rooms, play games and just get to know each other on a personal level,” said Pargo, who joined the team on Monday. “I think it’s very important. When you build that friendship and that camaraderie it shows out there on the court. If my guy gets beat, that’s my guy and I’m going to be there for him and I want him to be there for me.”

Chris Singleton didn’t have the benefit of a full camp as a rookie, but he didn’t see practicing in Fairfax as opposed to Verizon Center as a real getaway.

“This is away from everything? We’re 15 minutes away,” he said. “If you know people, you can get out of here. [Wittman] has given us freedom, but we eat together, train together, it’s good. The chemistry is a lot better than last year. Everybody loves it.”

Wittman hasn’t kept the players confined to their rooms and the gym, since some of the veteran players have families and are trying to get settled in a new area. But he is pleased that the players have taken advantage of the training camp set-up to get closer. The team will return to Fairfax for two more days of practice after they face the Bobcats as the Verizon Center locker room undergoes renovations.  

“You’re gone for most of the summer, you don’t see guys for most of the summer and then on top of that, with a lot of new faces here, it gives us a chance to get to know each other before we get into that grind starting in November,” Wittman said. “Coming here has worked out great. It’s not like we had to get on an airplane or drive three hours somewhere. It’s far enough away to where we have total concentration on one that thing and that’s camp. It’s just worked out good.”

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.



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