- The Washington Times - Friday, November 13, 2009

It wasn’t his first choice, but Earl Boykins wasn’t about to let himself complain. When he didn’t get the interest he wanted last year from NBA teams, he signed with Italian team Virtus Bologna for a contract reportedly worth more than $3.5 million, which made him the country’s highest-paid player.

The 5-foot-5 NBA veteran averaged 14.4 points and 5.1 assists while helping lead his team to the 2009 EuroChallenge title. But despite the success, he wanted more, and he didn’t want it to come on foreign soil.

“I was out of the NBA, but as long as you’re getting paid to play basketball, it’s not that bad,” said Boykins, whom the Wizards - down to one healthy point guard - signed Wednesday to a nonguaranteed deal for the veteran minimum of $1.2 million. “I went to Europe and had some success over there, but I just didn’t want to go back this year. I wanted to return to the NBA.”

In the offseason, Boykins received offers and training camp invitations from numerous NBA teams but never was able to settle upon an ideal situation. He didn’t want to accept a deal just to say he was on NBA team. So he went back to train in Denver, where he spent four of his 10 NBA seasons.

“I was running in the altitude, working out at various gyms, and I was confident that once I got the call, I would be in shape,” said Boykins, who has averaged 9.4 points and 3.4 assists in the NBA.

Boykins got the call from the Wizards on Wednesday, a day after Randy Foye sprained his ankle in a 90-76 loss to Miami and three days after fellow backup point guard Mike James broke his left ring finger in practice. The only other backup point guard on the roster is Javaris Crittenton, who has been limited to a walking boot since aggravating a left foot injury in training camp and having exploratory surgery on Oct. 23.

Boykins feels he finally has found the ideal fit. When Wizards coach Flip Saunders was coaching the Minnesota Timberwolves, Boykins was a member of the division-rival Nuggets. Boykins also has three former teammates in the Wizards organization: Sam Cassell, Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison.

The established relationships made Boykins as equally attractive to the Wizards as the Wizards were to him. And just as important to the team - if not more important - were Boykins’ experience and knowledge.

“No question, we needed someone to come in… that they can adjust to our players,” said Saunders, adding he has followed Boykins’ career from high school to the pros. “[He is] a veteran that’s smart enough to know the things they can do, find out what our other guys can do and let those other guys play to their strength. [We do] not have to go through a teaching phase with another young guard.”

Said Boykins: “The biggest thing I can bring is knowledge. It doesn’t matter how much talent you have. Until you’ve been in this league, you don’t understand how to win basketball games. With a lot of young guys, they definitely have talent, and hopefully I can provide some leadership and direction out there on the court and help them finish basketball games.”

Boykins had his first practice with the Wizards on Thursday and already is providing a much-needed spark for a team on a five-game losing streak.

“He looked good, moving the ball, penetrating, getting to the paint,” small forward Caron Butler said. “It’s funny seeing him out there, how small he is and all. But he’s got a lot of heart. He’s helping us out with the tempo and giving us the extra pep that we needed.”

Antawn Jamison, who is expected to make his season debut Saturday, was sick Thursday and wasn’t at practice. But Arenas was there to welcome his old friend back to an NBA locker room.

“When [Arenas] first saw me, the first thing he said was, ‘You’re back.’ And that’s sort of how I felt,” Boykins said. “A year away from the NBA, now to be back, I definitely feel back where I belong.”

Notes - Saunders said injured shooting guard Mike Miller (shoulder) practiced Thursday and could play Saturday against Detroit. …

Foye (ankle) was able to jog Thursday and also could play Saturday. The guard said he was encouraged by his progress and that he hopes to play Saturday.

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