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Wizards’ Issuf Sanon credits ‘Prison Break’ for his improved command of English

Wizards point guard Issuf Sanon, pictured in 2018, is participating in his second NBA Summer League in Las Vegas. (Joe Buglewicz for The Washington Post)

LAS VEGAS — After the Washington Wizards selected Issuf Sanon in the second round of the 2018 NBA draft, he spent a turbulent season stashed in Slovenia. His team, Petrol Olimpija, which competed in three leagues, played through a coaching carousel, and the instability forced Sanon out of the rotation. Sanon said he logged a “DNP-CD” — short for did not play, coach’s decision — the final four months.

But at least he had “Prison Break” to keep him occupied.

“It was a good one,” Sanon said of the show, which became his unexpected English tutor.

Although Sanon did not develop on the court the way he expected, he improved as an English speaker in part because of the canceled Fox television series about a man who hatched a scheme to spring his innocent brother from prison. With a better command of the language, Sanon, the 19-year-old Ukrainian guard who was the 44th pick last summer, has returned to the Wizards as a more confident player.

Wizards rookie Rui Hachimura is all business in his NBA Summer League debut

Following his experience overseas, Sanon wants to take a cue from his favorite American show and break out during the NBA Summer League.

“In the end I didn’t play for four months for coach’s decision,” Sanon said. “So now I am hungry, and we will see what’s going on in summer league.”

Last July, Sanon played with the Wizards during their brief stay in Las Vegas. Although Sanon could communicate and understand the instructions and plays told to him in English, he still needed a moment or two to process the information. This year, Sanon has shown such an ease with English that he doesn’t mind speaking to reporters — something he was shy about previously.

Sanon has a word for his 2018-19 season: “frustration.” It started as expected, with Sanon sharpening his skills as a nightly contributor. When Petrol Olimpija played in the ABA League, Sanon was listed as a shooting guard and appeared in 17 games. As the season went on, Sanon said, Petrol Olimpija changed coaches three times, and he became an afterthought.

Sanon might not play many minutes in Las Vegas, but at least he can rediscover his feel for the game.

During the Wizards’ summer league game against the Brooklyn Nets on Monday at the Thomas & Mack Center, Sanon joined Troy Brown Jr., Rui Hachimura, Justin Robinson and Anzejs Pasecniks in the starting five.

Washington lost, 88-85, despite Hachimura, the team’s first-round pick last month, leading the way with 19 points on 6-for-14 shooting to go with seven rebounds.

Sanon logged the least playing time among the starters, getting 13 minutes and making just one of his four shot attempts for two points.

“I love to play defense. I don’t care how much I score and stuff like this,” Sanon said. “If you play good defense, everything will come. So I just want to help my team.”

During the Wizards’ summer league debut Saturday, an 84-79 win over the New Orleans Pelicans, Sanon played fewer than nine minutes, but assistant coach Robert Pack noticed how he crammed plenty of effort into that short time on the floor.

“He played hard. He played well,” said Pack, who is coaching the summer league team. “He’s a guy who plays with a lot of energy. He plays aggressive, and that’s what we want out of him, and I think he will continue to get a feel. It’s a short time [and] he’s played with a lot of new guys, so he’s trying to feel his way out, especially from not playing a lot [this past season].”

In a sign of his growing self-belief, Sanon, who has two more years remaining on his contract with the team in Slovenia, said before the Wizards went to Las Vegas that he wanted to show the coaches that he belongs in Washington.

“I’m happy to be here because it’s different for me,” Sanon said. “I’m ready to stay here. I’m going to do everything to stay here.”

Still, the Wizards will probably need Sanon to undergo at least two more years of seasoning overseas. Tomas Satoransky remained with his international team for several seasons after Washington drafted him in 2012, but when he finally came to the United States for the 2016-17 season, he developed into the team’s starting point guard in place of the injured John Wall.

The summer league might not reveal the depth of Sanon’s development, but he remains confident his time will come.

“Just get ready for me,” he said. “I’m coming soon.”

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