Josh Boone was almost unrecognizable this week at Wizards summer league minicamp without the shoulder-length cornrows that became his signature look for three years at Connecticut and a short stint with the New Jersey Nets.
“No one recognizes me without the braids. I cut them once I went to China” to play professionally three years ago, Boone, 28, said after practice on Wednesday. “I didn’t want to have to find someone to do them over there. It was going to be a hassle.”
In addition to a new look, the 6-foot-10 Boone said he had “a renewed sense of confidence” as he attempted to make his way back in the league with the Wizards’ summer league team after making his last NBA appearance in 2010 with the Nets. But a few successful seasons in China and a greater hunger for a league he once took for granted weren’t enough to compensate for the sluggish play that came as a result of a knee injury suffered last January with the Iowa Energy of the NBA Development League.
Boone, 28, was expected to provide a veteran presence for an otherwise young roster, but swelling in his knee flared up because of the grueling series of practices and two-a-day sessions. The Wizards and Boone decided that it was best to let Boone spend more time to recover, rather than bring him along on their 13-man roster to Las Vegas on Thursday for the NBA Summer League. James Harris and Kevin Dillard were also cut.
The team will open on Saturday against the Golden State Warriors and features Otto Porter Jr., Chris Singleton, Jan Vesely, Glen Rice Jr., veteran point guard Sundiata Gaines, forward Devin Booker (Clemson), forward Frank Hassell (Old Dominion), guard Marquez Haynes (Texas-Arlington/Art Dragons, Germany), forward Dennis Horner (North Carolina State Springfield Armor),guard Lorne Jackson (Pepperdine), guard Andrew Lawrence (College of Charleston), forward Maurice Sutton (Villanova) and guard Ryan Thompson (Rider/Aalstar, Belgium).
Boone had hoped to be a part of that group and audition for the Wizards’ final roster spot — or perhaps with one on another team. But he lacked the burst and explosiveness that helped him earn Big East defensive player of the year honors as a sophomore and go 23rd overall the following year in the 2006 NBA draft. During a scrimmage on the first day of practice, Boone caught a pass under the basket but blew a wide-open layup after throwing it under the rim. Boone later explained that he was also dealing with a rib injury.
Spending a few days in Washington gave Boone, a native of Mount Airy, the chance to catch up with his former U-Conn teammate Emeka Okafor, with whom he won a national championship in 2004. The day before he was forced to shut down his ambitious return, Boone said he had learned some valuable lessons during a rough introduction to the NBA that often saw him not dressing for games.
“I just have to work harder,” Boone said. “The NBA is all about who works the hardest. Everybody in the NBA can play and there are a ton of guys who aren’t in the NBA that can play. I saw that from going overseas. It’s just a matter of getting in the right situation and making sure you stick. Get better every game. Play defense hard as I can.”
Boone will have to look elsewhere for his opportunity now – and give himself more time to heal.