It’s an hour and a half before tip off, and six young Wizards have a good lather going. While Flip Saunders gives his perfunctory interview to a cadre of media of diverse status– Michael Lee mingles with the nameless of bloggerdom—Othyus Jeffers, Cartier Martin, Mustafa Shakur, Andray Blatche, Kevin Seraphin and Hamady Ndiaye are engaged in a spirited bout of half court three-on-three. Working mostly on one half of the court, an assistant coach feeds the ball to a player and the offense executes a pick and roll play.
This is not a walkthrough. Bodies are banging, the screens are physical, and on one roll to the basket, Ndiaye collides with Seraphin and is sent tumbling into the basket support.
It’s a game to three, by ones, winners keep the ball. While none of the players besides Blatche and Seraphin have received a major investment from the Wizards, Jeffers and Shakur are battling like they have. When Seraphin is late coming to set a side pick and roll for Jeffers, he barks at the French rookie to hop to it—there’s a meaningless three-on-three scrimmage on the line!
Up close, Jeffers and Mustafa’s duel catches the eye. Shakur, of smooth handle and prototypical point guard size, plays the pick and roll with style. A highly touted player since his high school days in Philadelphia, Shakur plays with uncommon polish for a player just called up from the D-League. Jeffers on the other hand, who is listed at 6-5, one inch taller than Shaker, is actually a couple inches shorter and a ways rougher. His handle isn’t exactly awkward, but it’s about as clean as Cherokee Parks after six days lost in the woods. It’s strange to find these two in the same play for next year’s pay situation– one bred for a stardom that never quite panned out, the other a darling of exceeded expectations.
Yet here they are, getting in some extra work in preparation for their extended tryout with the Wizards. Regardless of where they were supposed to be, they’re both on this court because they stuck with a dream of being in the NBA.
While the Wizards work, assistants circle the action, encouraging and calling out instruction. When they cool down, the coaches speak individually with a couple players, doing some quick drills to reinforce the teaching.
The Wizards started the three-on-threes about six weeks ago. Jeffers says that since he’s been around they’ve used the new ritual to reinforce the pregame pointers. Judging from tonight’s skirmish, the Wizards expect a heavy diet of pick and rolls, “we want to keep them on the side as much as possible, try to slow down their driving guards.”
As we tip off in Washington, who knows if the last minute prep will have much effect. But the Wizards are working, and that’s something in which to take heart.