- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 3, 2001

WILMINGTON, N.C. In the past, if one of the Washington Wizards veteran players had been given the option of missing one of the two practices the team conducted yesterday at UNC Wilmington's Trask Coliseum, it's safe to say that he probably would have stayed away from the evening session.
This, however, is just one of the reasons that Michael Jordan is unique.
Jordan, participating in a training camp for the first time since 1997, was given that option by new coach Doug Collins, but instead of relaxing or shooting a round of golf at one of the many courses in this beachside community, Jordan participated in both practices. And judging from those who saw it the throng of about 150 media caught just the final five minutes of a scrimmage won by Jordan's team the 38-year-old Jordan looked and felt quite well.
"I went through quite a bit in both practices," said Jordan, looking strange in a white Wizards jersey with his No. 23 on the front. "I'm not trying to avoid anything. I'm going to listen to my body and push myself when I have to push myself. But training camp has a purpose and that's to try and get in shape."
Jordan made it clear that he, like everyone else, is
trying to work himself into the playing form that is required to complete an 82-game season. However, for a team that won just 19 games last season, having Jordan sweating it out at both practices a pair of two-hour sessions meant so much to the team.
"He had the option to sit one of them out, he knew that," said assistant coach Larry Drew. "But I think at the team dinner the night before he just got anxious and wanted to be out there and with the guys."
Drew and assistant coach John Bach are the two holdovers from last year's coaching staff. Drew remembers, with a frown, how last season the feeling at training camp was "almost dead." Yesterday after Jordan's team won a spirited scrimmage 60-53, that was clearly not the case.
"There was so much energy in here today," Drew said, a smile creeping past his lips. "This was so much different."
That difference, no doubt, begins with Jordan. In yesterday morning's workout, the primary emphasis was placed on conditioning drills, all of which Jordan was said to be a part of.
And in the night scrimmage, as his teammates Kwame Brown, Tyronn Lue, Mike Smith, Richard Hamilton and Brendan Haywood put the finishing touches on the Blue team, it was Jordan who applauded loudest and greeted them with high fives and pats on the back as they left the court following their win.
Collins, who also coached Jordan in Chicago, is the man entrusted with guiding the Wizards back to respectability. Before yesterday, Collins hadn't seen Jordan play since July 12, so he wasn't exactly sure what to expect. After Day 1 of the Jordan era, Collins has a little bit of an understanding. He also shed some light on how he wants to utilize Jordan this season.
"He's so smart," Collins said of Jordan. "A couple of things that we're trying to do, and we haven't had a lot of chances to work on offense, but we're trying to get him into the post quickly and get him the ball and let him operate in there and create for a lot of people. And that fadeaway is so good. Tonight he was very active around the basket and got guys shots on the floor."
Jordan has said he will play the role of mentor for the younger players. Following the workout, he re-emphasized that point.
"This is different because you have a lot of young players," Jordan said, comparing his days with the Chicago Bulls and Wizards. "You have a lot more young players; a lot more guys don't know what to do because they are in their first year. But I'll be able to help educate them."
Before he was whisked away by Wizards public relations staffers, Jordan reiterated why he was making this comeback after a three-year retirement.
"All I want to do is play ball," Jordan said as his new teammates walked by, completely ignored by the media. "Obviously I create a lot of havoc and that's why everybody's here. But when I'm on the court I don't think about you guys, I basically think about trying to be the best basketball player I can be and trying to help this team get to a successful situation. I can't control the hype. I just want to play. That's basically all I want to do."
Note The Wizards' preseason opener Oct. 11 at Detroit will air on Newschannel 8. The game will mark the debut of Michael Jordan in game action for Washington.

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