- The Washington Times - Monday, June 27, 2011

Jan Vesely left his home in the Czech Republic five years ago, at age 16. He had a dream that someday, he’d play in the NBA.

“It was difficult, leaving at 16, but my family gave me a lot of support,” Vesely said.

Vesely played basketball in Serbia and spent the past three years in the Euro League. He could have entered the NBA draft last year but said he wanted to work on his game.

“I wanted more minutes and more playing time,” Vesely said.

The extra year paid off. The Washington Wizards chose Vesely with the sixth pick Thursday night, and he’s already finding Washington a good fit.

“I’m happy to be here. I’m happy that Washington picked me,” Vesely said Monday at Verizon Center. “I like the Washington game. They run the floor. We can work hard and practice well. I came here to help the team.”

At 6-foot-11, Vesely can play small or power forward, run the floor well, and just for good measure, is a highlight-reel dunker. He believes he needs to get stronger and work on his shot, but he’s looking forward to playing with the Wizards, especially John Wall.

“He’s a very good point guard,” Vesely said. “He can run the fast break, and open the passing lanes. We can work well together.”

As for his dunking prowess, Vesely drew laughter when asked if he was the European Blake Griffin. He smiled and hesitated briefly before answering, “Yeah, I think so.”

At first glance, Vesely seems to be exactly what the Wizards were looking for as they assemble the building blocks around Wall: a talented, versatile player who fits into the Wizards‘ scheme. His personality is an unexpected bonus, and the team already has made him feel at home.

“We have lots of experience through the hockey team with bringing [international] players in and making them feel welcome and comfortable and assimilate them culturally,” owner Ted Leonsis said. “It’s incumbent on us as owners and management that the players not only adjust, adapt and flourish from the sports side but also socially. I think that we will do our best to make Jan and his family feel comfortable.”

Vesely called Washington “a beautiful city” that reminds him of a European city.

“I think if players feel comfortable and enjoy everything around the city, that their game flourishes,” Leonsis said. “Comfort and integration into what we do and into this great city is one of the things that we’ll be focused on.”

Vesely likely will have plenty of time to acclimate to a new country and language. In a normal offseason, players would be able to begin training camp in preparation for the summer league in as early as two weeks.

But with the impending NBA lockout, and the summer league already canceled, it’s hard to know when Vesely and fellow Wizards draft picks Chris Singleton and Shelvin Mack will begin life as NBA players.

Despite that uncertainty, teams are hoping that soon it will be business as usual. It begins with bringing in their new draft picks.

Jan is someone we identified a few years ago,” Wizards coach Flip Saunders said. “He fits the mold of the type of players that we’re trying to bring in here.

“He’s a high-energy player, very aggressive and he’s got a great personality. … A guy that plays like that is going to fit right in. I’m looking forward to working with him. I’d like to get him out there as soon as possible.”