RICHMOND | When the Wizards learned a little more than a year ago that they would have to open the 2008-09 season without Gilbert Arenas, an immediate call went out for the players who called themselves the “Future Three.”
Dominic McGuire proved versatile, getting time at power forward, small forward, shooting guard and point guard. Despite averaging just 4.5 points, McGuire used his rebounding and passing prowess to persuade the Wizards’ coaching staff to start him for 57 games.
His young running mates didn’t fare so well. Forward Andray Blatche was inconsistent and often criticized for poor work ethic and a lack of focus. Nick Young endured a roller coaster of a season and, like Blatche, was chided by his veteran teammates for goofing off and failing to learn the plays.
Now playing for the third coach of their short careers, Blatche and Young have decided to follow McGuire’s lead and take a serious approach to basketball. And McGuire, who last season drew motivation from the offseason birth of his first child, is aiming to continue his growth in his third year.
Instead of coming into training camp overweight as in the past, Blatche spent the summer working on his conditioning entering his fifth season. He even changed his jersey number from 32 to 7 to symbolize his new dedication to working hard every day.
Young, in his third year, heeded coach Flip Saunders’ prodding that he stop smiling so much on the court and play with a more aggressive attitude. He spent much of the summer working on eliminating extra dribbling before taking a shot and on popping jumpers off screens.
“It was time for them to grow up, and they know that,” center Brendan Haywood said. “I think with new staff coming in, they didn’t wanna be labeled a certain way, so they’re taking a more professional approach.”
Said Saunders: “They’ve all been extremely serious. … I think those guys are coming with the right attitude. They can understand what we’re trying to accomplish.”
Young said his wake-up call came earlier this summer after he learned the starting shooting guard spot would be up for grabs despite the return of DeShawn Stevenson and the acquisition of guards Mike Miller and Randy Foye.
“This is my third year. I’m tired of being on the bench,” Young said Monday on the eve of training camp.
Once camp began, he impressed Saunders, causing the coach to describe his performance in a scrimmage Tuesday night as “phenomenal.”
“I’m just trying to come out being mentally ready. I had a talk with Gil about being aggressive, and that’s what I’ve tried to do,” Young said. “They said [shooting guard] is open, and I’m going for that. Just coming in, new coaching staff, new opportunity for me - it’s there now, so I’m trying to take it.”
Blatche decided to make some changes after his mother took him to task this summer.
“I had a real big talk with my mom,” said Blatche, who is expected to be Antawn Jamison’s backup at power forward. “She told me I looked too lackadaisical out there, and I totally agree with her. … In the past, I wasn’t taking it as serious as I needed to be. Now I’m taking a very serious approach. I’m way more focused than any point in my career.”
Blatche, often criticized last season for soft play, especially on the defensive end, is trying to shed that image. In Tuesday night’s scrimmage, he laid out Jamison with a hard foul while denying a layup.