Eric Bledsoe, Los Angeles Clippers rookie guard and college teammate of John Wall, went through his normal pre-game routine before facing Wall’s Wizards on Saturday night. He went through shooting and dribbling drills with assistant coaches Howard Eisley and Robert Pack, he did a bit of on-court stretching, and he took time to joke around with teammate Ryan Gomes. And when I stopped and chatted with him about John Wall as he walked from the court to the locker room, Bledsoe gave me the normal clichés that players love to give — for the most part.
“I know John and I are boys from Kentucky and all that, but we are still on struggling teams, and we both need to go out and play hard and focus on winning,” he said.
But then he came clean.
“Ok, we may go hard at each other a little bit.”
After our conversation back in the locker room, Bledsoe sat in his space and studied video of the Wizards-Pistons game that was showing on a big screen television. Just as he was starting to get comfortable, Clippers head coach Vinnie Del Negro came over to his locker and summoned Bledsoe to his office. Unfortunately for me, it was 6:15 and the locker room doors were closing to the media, thus I did not get the chance to ask Bledsoe what was discussed.
Whatever it was, Bledsoe went out and scored a career-high 23 points to go along with six assists and eight rebounds in just 22 minutes of play. He did most of his damage in the fourth quarter when he scored 17 of 31 Clippers points, and all but six coming at the expense of Wall, who guarded Blesoe until the 2:50 mark of the period. Wall was scoreless during the same span.
There were times when Bledsoe’s ability to score points on the break resembled his former Kentucky backcourt mate. With 2:17 left in the third quarter, after Wizards forward Maurice Evans hit a three-point basket, Bledsoe took the ball the full length of the court in just four seconds and scored on a layup. Then, with 3:11 in the fourth quarter, he got the rebound off of a missed Trevor Booker shot, drove the length of the court and dunked the ball — just as Wall had done earlier in the game.
After the game, I asked Bledsoe what Del Negro said to him in his office prior to the game, and whether that had any effect on how he played:
“Coach told me he had talked to Coach Cal [Kentucky coach John Calipari] and Coach Cal said that he had noticed that whenever I did something wrong or made a turnover, I got real down on myself, instead of just going out there and playing aggressive ball. So Coach Del Negro told me to just keep that in mind, be aggressive and not get in my own head all the time, so that’s what I tried to do.”
Del Negro also briefly talked about his pregame chat with Bledsoe:
“I liked his aggressiveness, but I also like his control while he was out there. I talked to him and I thought his effort was much better, his intensity. And obviously John and him played together at Kentucky and things, but more so than that, he just has great athleticism and it was great to see him under control and going to the basket. More importantly, on the break, he made some really nice passes and didn’t force things. He really ran the team well, and that’s a good sign for him. Hoping going forward and having Mo [Williams] as a mentor will be really positive for him.”
Mo Williams, who along with Jamario Moon was traded to the Clippers from the Cleveland Cavaliers for Baron Davis, has been cutting into Bledsoe’s minutes since he arrived. Bledsoe averaged 24 minutes a game before Williams arrived, and that number has gone down to 17 minutes per in the seven games Williams has played as a Clipper. Still, Williams has made it his business to take Bledsoe under his wing, and against the Wizards he noticed a difference.
“Man, I don’t know what coach said to Eric before the game, but his approach today was on point. He was focused, locked in, aggressive an he made plays for himself and others. He’s a young player and I know me being here may get him down a bit, but he has to continue to play hard and make it hard for coach to keep him on the bench, so I’ve been staying on him.”
Just then, former Wizard Randy Foye chimed in with his unprovoked views on Bledsoe’s game:
“Bledsoe played his ass off tonight, he pushed the ball, got easy baskets, he got that confidence going early, he shot the ball well, and was hyped up to play his boy from Kentucky — he won’t admit that though.”
[photos: Kyle Weidie, Truth About It.net]
[The author of this post: Rashad Mobley is from the Washington, D.C. area and has been covering the Washington Wizards with credentials for three years. To learn more about him click here. To follow him on Twitter: @Rashad20.]