RICHMOND The Washington Wizards were scheduled to begin training camp on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University at 10:45 a.m. Saturday. But eight of the 18 players on the roster hit the court nearly three hours early.
The goal: make 300 shots apiece.
The ringleader: Gilbert Arenas.
Refusing to let the gimpy, thrice-surgically repaired left knee render him completely useless to his team, Agent Zero rounded up the youngest members of the team for the 8 a.m. session. Veterans Caron Butler, Antonio Daniels and Juan Dixon followed suit.
"That was great," said Arenas, who will miss at least the first month of the season while recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery. "By 9 o'clock, we probably had 14 players here so that was great. The older guys had a say, you know Caron. But he was on that bus, [Daniels] came, Juan came, and I just brought the young guys. I said, 'We're going over early. I want to get some shots in. Let's get 300 makes in.' If you can get 300 makes, that's pretty good."
Once practice began Arenas was in uniform - but on the sidelines, coaching the likes of second-year guard Nick Young, forward Dominic McGuire, rookie center JaVale McGee, and free agent signings DerMarr Johnson, Linton Johnson and Taj McCullough as they ran offensive drills on a side court.
"He's really into it. I hope he doesn't think about becoming a coach," Wizards coach Eddie Jordan joked. "Nah, it's good. He's feeling good about himself. It's good to have him true to form and around."
When he signed his six-year, $111 million contract in July, Arenas promised to show more maturity this season. But he said encouraging the younger teammates and even veteran additions to the team is nothing new. And since he can't contribute at the start of the season on the floor, he sees taking a vocal, active approach as a way to remain involved with the team while rehabbing.
"You've just got to be a presence," Arenas said. "You know you're not playing, but you've got to be a part of the team. The young guys need guidance, and some of the veterans, they're trying to get their thing back, but somebody's got to talk to the young guys. And since I'm available, I might as well do it. It's easy for me to do it since I can't play."
Arenas said his rehabilitation process is going well but is "slow and boring." He won't resume lifting until he regains full range of motion. He will continue his two-a-day sessions during the preseason and said there's a good chance he won't travel with the team for their preseason games in Barcelona, Spain, and Berlin so he can remain on track with his training.
Commenting on ducking out of media day interviews Friday at Verizon Center - a move that invoked $15,000 fines for both Arenas and the team, the guard first joked that he didn't have a dramatic story to tell during interviews as he normally does, so he skipped the session to create a bigger story. He said his real reason for disappearing after posing for photos was partially rehabilitation-related and partially not wanting extra attention.
"By the time I got done with rehab, I just didn't feel like it," Arenas said. "And I figured that since I'm not playing in camp, and for me to come out there and take all the attention, that brings everybody else down."