[NOTE: This was written before today's Debbie-Downer news about John Wall's knee. But in any case... -Kyle W.]
“This is not the norm in the league,” said Randy Wittman in a pre-training camp press conference on Wednesday. He was talking about almost two-thirds of his young team arriving in Washington early over the last week-plus to get better acquainted with each other before the season.
“We do have a lot of new faces, and I thought it was important they get to try to know each other a little bit, not only as persons, but their games, what they like to do, where they like to catch the ball, those kind of things that you can learn, before we start on Tuesday,” said the coach, subtly anxious to run his first Wizards training camp from the head position.
The seas are much calmer this year. The ship, although on an uncertain course, is steady. For one, Wittman credits an ability to have a hands-on approach with his young team this summer, as opposed to the free-for-all player off-season programs required by last summer’s lockout.
“Having that for those guys this year was very beneficial,” said Wittman. “I think now they understand what they missed the year before in the lockout situation. It’s one thing to go down to the local Y and say I’m putting in a good workout, and then putting in a good workout.”
Wittman is old school, he said so himself when asked if he was going to give his team a fancy marketing slogan before training camp. But, the coach is not hard-headed, at least in his philosophy.
“I’m a firm believer in fitting what I want to do to the talent that I have, instead of sometimes the other way around,” Wittman said of molding his coaching style to the ability of his players. So don’t ever expect a pissing contest between the Bobby Knight disciple and the fastest point guard in the NBA, John Wall. (Whew, one less concern, right Wizards fans?)
“We’re going to be an uptempo team with the ability to play inside-out,” he said. But also, defense comes first.
“We have to have that understanding as a team that it’s not about running and gunning, it’s about the two coming together. And if we make strides to be a better defensive team, we’re going to be a better running team as well.” Wittman still gives much credit to the moves made at last March’s trade deadline for his team’s ability to improve defensively, but also says the summer trade for Emeka Okafor and Trevor Ariza helped solidify the concept.
Clearly, as much as it is about adjustable philosophies, synergies, and fresh starts ahead of the track, it’s also about who isn’t on the Wizards anymore (and who was brought in to replace the departed).
“With the people we’ve got now in that locker room, from a professionalism standpoint, both on and off the floor, is going to help our guys tremendously. In this league, you’ve got to have the ability as a player… If it was easy for everybody, we’d all be winners,” said Wittman.
Eliminating players with a sense of entitlement also helps. There might be more true competition for playing time in this year’s Wizards training camp than there’s been in the last decade.
“I think the more competition you have, whether it’s one-on-one at your position or a combination as your team as a whole, makes you a better player,” Wittman said. “You get better in practice every day because you’re playing against somebody that you’re maybe fighting for minutes for, instead of it being a known and given that ‘I’m going to get minutes no matter what I do out here today.’ ”
When asked if he had any cigarette smokers (i.e., players with bad basketball habits) on the team this season, the coach said with a smile, “Ask me Tuesday night … We still have some bad habits I’m sure we’re going to have to break.”