Chris Singleton just couldn't seem to stand still.
As he spoke to the media surrounding him at Verizon Center on Thursday, he rocked back and forth against the dark blue backdrop freckled with the Washington Wizards' logo. When his hands weren't darting in and out of his pockets, they were twisting the headphone cord that dangled from his towering 6-foot-8 frame.
The fidgeting forward hasn't stopped moving since the Wizards' season ended in April.
After a 20-46 finish — the fourth straight season without a playoff berth — there's no doubt that what the team needs most is a fresh start. But as far as Singleton is concerned, the improvements have to start with him. So he continues to grind.
"I underachieved in a lot of areas," Singleton said in April, "but we've got a bright future."
Fresh off the court after Day Four of minicamp, Washington coach Randy Wittman raved about Singleton's recent consistency. Shelvin Mack chimed in about his teammate's improved work ethic.
Thrown into the fire
Singleton's early exit from Florida State paid off when the Wizards selected him 18th overall in the 2011 draft. But what was to come wasn't the kind of smooth transition a rookie hopes for.
On July 1, 2011, just nine days after he was picked, the NBA lockout began. With no club contact allowed, he and the rest of Washington's rookies waited for 149 days until an agreement was reached Nov. 26, 2011.
It left less than three weeks for the Wizards to collect themselves in time for their first preseason game — a 103-78 loss to Philadelphia
"I personally didn't have a chance to sit on the bench and get a feel for the game. I had to just go out there and play," said Singleton, who tallied 25 minutes in his debut.
Singleton was thrust into a starting role for much of the season after injuries kept Andray Blatche and Rashard Lewis on the sideline, and he averaged 4.6 points and 3.5 rebounds per game.
But it was the inconsistent effort on the court that Wittman wasn't expecting from the two-time ACC Defensive Player of the Year.
"That's what obviously got him into this league, was his ability to defend multiple positions. But sometimes he took nights off from doing that," Wittman said. "When that's your staple, it's got to be every night."
Putting the pieces together
Now, Singleton looks like an entirely different player to those around him.
After giving his rookie season a 'D' grade, Singleton vowed to go back to work during his first full offseason in Washington to fix his fundamentals — specifically ball handling and finishing around the rim. So far, that strategy has paid dividends.
"He's just being aggressive," Mack said. "He's coming out, playing hard. He's not making excuses as to why he can't get things done. He's just going out there, playing hard, and letting his play speak for itself."
Wittman couldn't be happier about the welcomed changes. The tools were always in Singleton's toolbox. The problem was just that, day in, day out, he wasn't using them all together.
"I haven't seen him play this consistently this hard for four straight days," Wittman said. "He's come out to prove in these four days, that, 'I'm going to go out there and bust my rear end and become a better player.'"
Singleton's team lost in Wednesday's minicamp scrimmage. Even that was unacceptable. He refuses to be a part of a losing culture. The team will now travel to Las Vegas to play in five summer league games starting Friday.
"Hopefully we'll go 5-0," he said, grinning at the thought of it. "That's the highest we can go."
More importantly, Singleton is confident the Wizards have the potential to be a playoff contender this season. But first, he said, they've got to prove they want it.
"We've got to go out there and work," Singleton said. "We've got to go out there and play hard on every possession."
Putting in the necessary effort can often be half the battle. But that's a fight that Singleton has already proven to have won.
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