As bad as a 1-13 record may be, the Washington Wizards had a chance to put their fortunes into perspective. The team hosted members of the Wounded Warriors program from Walter Reed Hospital at Monday’s practice at Verizon Center.
The players and coaches signed some basketballs, posed for pictures, and at least one soldier got a one-on-one shooting session from assistant coach Sam Cassell.
“I think, personally that, how can you thank people that fight for this country,” Cassell said. “I don’t think we can thank them enough. They are fighting for our freedom and everything this country stands for. I just thanked them, for fighting for our freedom. Everyone on the streets that sees individuals show off their gratitude, because I come from a military family.”
Cassell played 15 seasons in the NBA and joined the Wizards coaching staff in 2009. A sharp-shooting guard known for his trash talking demeanor, Cassell scored more than 15,000 points in his career.
“I have an uncle that’s been in the Navy for 30 years,” Cassell said. He told me a long time ago, that before the war started, this could be a long time before this war ends. And that was six years ago. Right now, we still have troops over there and it won’t be over until every single troop is home. It gives closure to that family that has a son, daughter over in Iraq, to come home safely. Until the last American solder comes home. It’s not over. It’s just that simple.”
Sgt. Chris Powell, 26, had the fun of going up against Cassell on the Verizon Center court.
“He doesn’t take anything lightly,” Powell said. “That’s why he gave me the opportunity to warm up and give me a little pointers. So anything I was getting the opportunity to use against him I would have used it.”
Powell, a D.C. native, was with the 275th military police and the 101st Airborne unit. “My experience over there was one of those experiences that you say you’d probably never go through again if you didn’t have to.”
Powell called the chance to spent some time with a few NBA players an coaches a real morale booster.
“This is a great opportunity,” Powell said. “We’re very thankful.” A long time Wizards fan, Powell said he’s not too happy about the team’s record so far this season, but thinks the Wizards are a young team that just needs a chance to come together.
Along with Sgt. Powell, Sgt. Darryl Fletcher and Sgt. Ty Baylock were also in attendance.
“It’s great,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. “It sheds a little light on something sometimes we forget life is about. Sometimes you worry about wins and losses and what’s affecting us, and then you see guys at a young age putting their lives on the line to make the world a better place.”
“It kind of opens your eyes a little bit. We’re thankful for these people for what they do for us. They’re more than welcome to come out here any time they want.”
Bradley Beal called meeting the soldiers a chance to reflect on his own blessings and be thankful.
“It just helps you realize the blessing that you have,” Beal said. “These guys are selected to defend their country and they’re blessed to be able to come back. Some of the people didn’t make it over there and they’re blessed to come back even if they’re wounded.”
“Thats a blessing in itself and you still have your life to live. We’re just so thankful for that, especially myself. That just touches me because they represent us.”