Tom Knott: Wizards’ Haywood finds his voice

Welcome to the media jungle, Brendan Haywood. That acknowledgement probably is long overdue, given his growing body of work, starting with providing color commentary of the Mystics in 2003.

Excuse anyone for thinking the initial foray was a diversion to fill up the summer calendar.

Now he is a blogger and a one-time radio host on FM-106.7 after putting in time with Comcast SportsNet last winter. He has barely cleared his throat. Being in the chattering class is his post-basketball aspiration.

“Being in the media, it’s not easy,” Haywood says.

Tell me about it. Stuff is always being misinterpreted.

His off-handed crack on the nut who is Stephon Marbury led to a misunderstanding and an apology.

“I’ve learned very, very early that you have to be politically correct because people have thin skin,” Haywood says.

A permeable skin would not be Haywood, the target of a number of objections from this space at the height of his quarrel with Eddie Jordan.

Now we’re talking, “the homeless-looking white dude” and the 7-footer with the sharp wit brokering a peace of sorts. The uneasiness was so many seasons ago before his long hours in the gym produced a spike in quality. The aging process sharpened the maturing level.

With Harvey Grant in tow, Haywood would stand at the free throw line after practice and make one shot after another. Then he would split two free throw attempts in a game. It is impossible to duplicate game conditions in an empty gym.

One game-like measure with a tormented free throw shooter is to have the player jog to the opposite free throw line and back before taking two free throw attempts and repeating the process. This increases the heart rate, similar to what a player would be feeling in a game, and eliminates a misleading rhythm from being established.

Yet Haywood’s work there eventually led to the fashioning of a statistical anomaly: a significant climb in free throw proficiency from 54.8 percent in 2007 to 73.5 percent in 2008.

We’ll see whether the correction sticks this season after Haywood missed all but six games last year. He is going into the final year of his contract - he is looking at rental properties by Union Station on this day - and awaiting the final outcome on Gilbert Arenas.

“As long as we have our leader back and he is healthy, we’ll be fine,” he says. “Fifty wins - that’s a lofty goal. But I definitely think 50 is within our grasp.”

That assessment comes from a combination of the player and the media guy.

The media guy is asked to deal with three topical subjects.

Brett Favre: “I think, as long as you are physically able to play, a player should go for it because you don’t have forever. Now with Brett Favre, I am kind of like everybody else. I’m tired of hearing about it.”

Michael Vick: “I’m glad he is getting his second shot. He paid his debt to society.”

Plaxico Burress: “I understand what he did was wrong. But I feel like two years [in prison] is harsh. But that’s the law. I did some research on it to be more informed, and New York has very strict gun laws. So while I might think two years is tough, that is the law. And his sentence is pretty standard in New York.”

Haywood has become something of a media junkie, watching an array of shows on ESPN, listening to talk radio and reading an assortment of publications. He appreciates the on-air insights of Doug Collins and Hubie Brown, thinks they are the best at what they do. He used to get a kick out of Bill Walton.

“I would tape the games that he did on us, go home and start watching it, and he would have me laughing about some of the things he would say about me,” Haywood says.

He likes Mark Jackson, Greg Anthony and Jay Bilas. He understood the shtick of Stephen A. Smith, the angry one. He sees what others do but is developing his own style and voice.

“I do my homework,” Haywood says. “You have to do a whole lot more preparation when you’re in the media. You have to be knowledgeable about all the sports, all the players and teams, not just the team you’re playing next when you are a player.”

Haywood prefers to watch the NBA over the college game because of the high quality of athleticism and skill.

“But come NCAA tournament time, March Madness is hard to beat,” he says.

He is encouraged by the personnel changes of the Wizards - the trade that secured Randy Foye and Mike Miller and the free agent signing of Fabricio Oberto.

“I feel like we have become a very deep team,” Haywood says.

He sticks the Cavaliers, Celtics and Magic at the top of the Eastern Conference.

“I would put us fourth after them,” he says. “At the All-Star break, I will have to look at it again. Hopefully I will be able to reshuffle the order of the teams.”

Haywood is readying to put up his media hat, what with training camp set to commence in five weeks.

He will be playing under a new coach with a new system on a team that will go into October with crossed fingers. It is a team that desperately wants to see what it can be after being stymied by injuries the last two seasons.

Haywood the media guy and Haywood the player would agree.

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