The atmosphere at Patriot Center on the campus of George Mason University on Tuesday evening was certainly exciting. Washington Wizards fans gathered in long lines for a free event featuring an open scrimmage, Wizards Girls dancing, Wale rapping, little kids shooting hoops, and to catch glimpses of their new basketball team. When the doors finally opened, people rushed into the arena, trying to score a prime seat as the George Mason band rocked Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.”
Those anticipating a quality basketball performance, however, were likely disappointed, as John Wall, Trevor Booker, Nene, and Trevor Ariza sat out due to various injuries and were merely spectators during the unremarkable hour-long scrimmage. New assistant coaches Don Newman and Jerry Sichting led the White team against a Sam Cassell and Don Zierden-coached Blue team. Head Coach Randy Wittman looked on, rotating from sideline to sideline all evening and never afraid to get his point across at any moment. Both Kevin Seraphin and Chris Singleton received the brunt of audible displeasure from their coach.
Bradley Beal struggled getting open, Martell Webster knocked a few shots early but then kind of disappeared, and Jan Vesely still has major issues with fouls. Emeka Okafor was a force on defense, but his offensive post moves were lackluster; Seraphin, on the other hand, continued his interior scoring prowess, although at times he let himself get pushed away from the basket by Earl Barron. Also, Jordan Crawford’s shot selection opened the door for critics.
The most outstanding performer was Jannero Pargo, and honestly, the 33-year-old was really the only player who stood out. Pargo, who has dealt with sore ribs and was recently given medical clearance to continue practicing, splashed repeated jumpers throughout the night to the delight of Wall, who kept yelling either “JP” or “P” after every make.
Luckily for Wizards Nation, the scrimmage did not feature the main rotation of players that team brass hopes will shine for a majority of this upcoming season, so I would not take too much from any analysis of this affair.
The night’s main purpose was not to evaluate sloppy basketball, but to entertain an estimated 2,100 fans who came out to show their support. D.C. native Wale, donning a Wizards sweatshirt and hat, performed several songs and jumped into an elated crowd while still spitting lyrics. Every player was given a formal introduction to roaring applause, and people were in such good spirits that Duke’s Shavlik Randolph was spared from receiving any boos.
The Wizards Girls strutted their stuff quite exceptionally and the dunk team executed aerobatic slams off trampolines. Several Wizards players attempted to win free books for GMU students by making a half court shot. Unfortunately, everyone came up short – even Wale. At one point Wall was given the microphone and thanked the crowd for coming out.
This event lacked the buzz and hype of Wizards “Midnight Madness” in 2010, but judging by the reactions of people and online chatter, a good time was had by all. It is commendable the Wizards organization puts on these events for fans, because they are certainly not required. I would like to see them go to different local college campuses in the future so others can share in the positive experience, but the Patriot Center is an understandable venue since Ted Leonsis’ ownership group manages the arena.
I caught up with Wale after the event, and he was thankful for the opportunity to bring joy to the fans.
“It was dope … all the college kids had a good time tonight, that is all you can really ask for.”
Wale also predicted desirable results for this year’s squad:
“We are a very ambitious basketball team. We are going to have a good season … We going to be alright man, we look better than we have looked in a long time.”