- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 3, 2002

WILMINGTON, N.C. In many ways, Larry Hughes is a round-peg shooting guard that has been forced into the square-hole of point guard during most of his four-year career.

The experiment in Golden State fizzled last season as he lost his job to rookie Gilbert Arenas and the Warriors stumbled through a disastrous season. Hughes found himself struggling with the role of a distributing guard and sacrificed some of the attacking play that comes more naturally to him. Hughes has made it no secret that he wanted out of Golden State, and gladly signed with the Wizards this offseason as a free agent.

After just a few offseason workouts and training camp sessions, Hughes has warmed to life as a Wizard and says he is very comfortable with the way he is used in coach Doug Collins' system not so much as a conventional point guard but a ballhandler who looks to score. Collins wants to employ a more uptempo style with less emphasis on perimeter players who can perform at one position and more on those who are versatile and can play multiple spots.

"I think last year I kind of fell into the point guard as a distributor and I lost the ability to attack and I didn't attack as much," Hughes said. "I left it up to the other people to get my job done. In this system, I give the ball up early, make plays I'm just happy I can get out there with a coach that knows what I can do and doesn't want to limit me to one position."

The addition of Hughes and first-round pick Juan Dixon and the shift in philosophy stand as a contrast to last year's point guards, Chris Whitney and Tyronn Lue. Both are back this season but realize their situations have changed there will be heavy competition for the minutes they received last season.

Collins has said nothing is definite as far as starters' spots go, and Whitney is holding him to that.

"I'm sure it is an [open competition]," Whitney said. "[Collins] said it was going to be that way for everybody. I just go out there and not let those [concerns about playing time] cloud my mind."

Still, Whitney admits he became frustrated when the Wizards acquired Hughes this offseason, apparently seeking to upgrade the position. Whitney started 81 games in 2001-02, the first time in seven seasons he was a full-time starter.

Whitney amounts to the Wizards' loyal soldier, the player who has the longest tenure with the team. He joined the Wizards on a 10-day contract late in the 1995-96 season, played his way onto the roster permanently, and has been in Washington since; the player with the second-most seasons as a Wizard is Jahidi White with four. Whitney has played in whatever role the team's different coaches have given him and finally became a starter last season. He was the only Wizard to play in all 82 games.

"I think everybody knows what my worth is I'm an 8 o'clock kind of guy," Whitney said. "When it's time to go, when it counts, I'm going to be there."

As Whitney's backup, Lue was there for the Wizards, too, posting 7.8 points and 3.5 assists while playing 20 minutes a game. Known primarily as a defensive pest in the parts of three seasons he spent with the Lakers, he showed more, hitting 44.5 percent of his 3-point attempts.

"The biggest question was, could I penetrate and get to the basket?" Lue said. "[The Wizards organization] wanted to know if I could spread the floor. Like I said, I was seventh in the league in 3-point percentage last year."

Lue said he worked hard in the offseason adding muscle to his 6-foot frame and improving his conditioning. "While some guys are tired and sore now, I'm feeling good," he said, which can only add to his value as a pesky on-the-ball defender.

"T-Lue and Larry Hughes both have really done a great job pressuring the ball," Collins said. "Now we have two guys who can get up the floor and pressure the ball, so that really helps us."

Then there's rookie Dixon, who can play either guard position but at just 6-3 and 164 pounds, coaches believe is better suited for point guard. With three veterans ahead of him at point guard, there wouldn't figure to be many available minutes for Dixon if the current roster situation stays the same.

Then again, Collins has talked about using Whitney, who shot a career-best 40.6 percent from long range last season, more at shooting guard, which could alleviate the logjam at the point. The only certainty is the situation will be resolved by the time camp breaks on Oct.9.

"There's nothing like competition we have competition now," Collins said. "I don't want to get into roster spots right now that's what training camp is for."

Notes Kwame Brown practiced in all of yesterday's morning session but said he is not fully recovered from his hamstring injury. He first practiced in most of Tuesday's evening session. Rod Grizzard sat out the morning practice with a sore knee, and Etan Thomas is still out with a hamstring pull.

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