RICHMOND | Late in the Washington Wizards' first practice of training camp, an errant shot ricocheted off the backboard and in an instant, center Etan Thomas exploded upward, snatched the ball from the air and then looked for an outlet.
Saturday's start of the preseason represented the completion of a full circle for the 6-foot-10, 260-pound Thomas. A few days shy of a year ago, the seven-year veteran lay on an operating table, having a leaky aortic valve repaired while his Wizards teammates tipped off camp.
Thomas found himself a helpless bystander last season, even after doctors cleared him to resume running and lifting. A slow-healing sternum prevented Thomas from subjecting himself to contact. In February, Thomas took part in noncontact drills with hopes of returning to help the Wizards down the stretch of the regular season and playoffs. But by the final week of March, the bone was only 50 percent healed.
Finally in June, Thomas received a clean bill of health and readied himself for the start of training camp. He scrimmaged with the Wizards' summer league squad to regain conditioning and polish his skills.
And so when the Wizards headed for Richmond on Friday, Thomas was perhaps the most eager player on the team to begin camp.
"It's just great to be back. I know I'm going to be a little overly excited," Thomas said on Friday. "I think I can make a big difference. I just want to come out and play hard. Be a presence down low, physical, that's what I bring."
Following his first full practice in more than a year, Thomas said he felt "great." At one point during the session, fellow center Brendan Haywood inadvertently elbowed Thomas in the chest. When play stopped, Haywood checked with Thomas to make sure he was fine. Thomas assured him he felt no pain, and following the session he said the only soreness he had was from all the running he did.
"I know my legs are going to be sore," he chuckled. "But everything's good. I'm glad to be back."
Said Wizards coach Eddie Jordan: "Very physical. Very athletic. Very intense and very competitive. He looked good."
Jamison tweaks hip
Antawn Jamison suffered a strained hip flexor in Saturday morning's practice session and rested during evening action. Jamison said he was shifting sideways on some defensive drills and felt awkward and then some discomfort.
"It's nothing too serious, but if I don't take the proper precautions it could be," Jamison said. "It felt better [this evening], but we'll see how it feels tomorrow."
Brown gives a spark
Jordan has long sought a quicker, change-of-pace reserve point guard, and this summer, team president Ernie Grunfeld acquired Dee Brown from the Utah Jazz.
After just one session, Jordan said Brown, who played in Turkey last season, is just what the Wizards have lacked.
"Dee was a lighting bolt today," Jordan said. "It was really great to see. He talks a lot. He's tough. He pushes the ball. He's fast, and his shot has really improved. He's a speed demon out there. That's something that we haven't had since I've been coaching here, and we welcome that sort of talent."
Jordan has a tradition of inviting former NBA coaches to help out during training camp, and this year former Detroit Pistons coach Flip Saunders and former Washington Bullets coach K.C. Jones joined the Wizards.
"I'm proud to have them here," Jordan said. "They're both very good defensively. Obviously K.C. is from one era and Flip has done some good things recently. They've been in our meetings, they've made suggestions on the court. We're happy to have them around. . . . Our team respects what they've done, they listen, they pay attention and that's a good thing."