- The Washington Times - Monday, October 6, 2008

When asked a week before training camp whether rookie center JaVale McGee had a chance to crack the Washington Wizards’ rotation, coach Eddie Jordan quickly answered, “Uh, no.”

Although he was an exceptional athlete with great potential who averaged 14.1 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.8 blocks for Nevada as a sophomore, McGee wasn’t yet NBA-ready, Jordan explained.

The 7-footer with freakishly long arms and great leaping ability could help the Wizards with his shot-blocking skills. But at 241 pounds, he needed to get stronger, learn Jordan’s complex offensive system and master the defense.

And with Brendan Haywood (seven seasons) and Etan Thomas (six seasons) already on the roster, there was no pressing need to rush McGee’s development.

After a week of training camp, McGee isn’t about to unseat Haywood or Thomas. But the 19th pick of June’s draft, who capped his camp Friday night with nine points, five rebounds and a block in an intrasquad scrimmage, has proved himself a quick learner and hard worker.

“He’s got some terrific athleticism, and he’s listening to our coaches, and our coaches are doing a terrific job with him,” Jordan said after Saturday’s practice. “Even today was a good practice. I thought last night he had shown some good signs, and you see more of it. It’s promising to see. It’s really exciting to see his growth already.”

McGee said he was asked to do a little bit of everything at Nevada: rule the boards, divert shots in the paint and score in a variety of ways. In college, he displayed a textbook hook shot, acrobatic dunks, a nice fadeaway jumper and 3-point range while ranking 14th in the nation in blocked shots.

But this season he won’t be asked to carry a similar burden. Jordan and his staff have given McGee a concise to-do list.

“Knowing the defensive spacing when he has to help, pick-and-roll defense, transition both ways running the floor,” Jordan said. “Right now that’s it. We’re not looking for him to get touches in the post, although it’s going to happen, but we want him to get the defensive system down first.”

Although his coaches are working to ensure a smooth transition, it doesn’t mean McGee doesn’t feel a sense of urgency.

“There’s always pressure,” McGee said. “I feel like any time I’m in the game, I should be able to grab a rebound, block a shot or even just change someone’s shot. So there’s always pressure.”

That’s a big part of why McGee has pushed himself so hard in conditioning and in learning the system. After Saturday’s practice, which ended with McGee’s gray T-shirt soaked with sweat, the center remained on the court to work on the post-up baseline fadeaway jumper that Patrick Ewing was so successful knocking down during his storied career.

And his hard work has been noticed by McGee’s teammates as well as the coaches.

“I think he’s doing it,” captain Caron Butler said. “He’s out there working hard and getting better in all aspects of the game. I saw a drastic improvement from summer league until training camp, and I think it’s only going to get better because he’s willing to work.”

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