- The Washington Times - Monday, March 19, 2012

If he felt odd in a Washington Wizards practice T-shirt, it didn’t show. The broad smile for which Nene is known still was present as he worked out with assistant coach Gene Banks and his new backup center, Kevin Seraphin.

The smile helped conceal the nerves.

“I was a little scared a couple days ago, but I understand God has a plan, and the plan is to be here,” Nene said Monday. “It’s a new career. It’s a new life.”

Nene, 29, sounded fully prepared for that new life and the chance to embrace the challenges of leaving the Denver Nuggets — the only team he has played for and the city where he makes his offseason home. But challenges and adversity are nothing new to the Brazilian center. In 2008, he faced the ultimate adversity when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer.

Nene took a leave of absence that January to have surgery and returned to the court in March. Before his cancer diagnosis, Nene suffered a career-threatening knee injury in 2005, when an awkward fall in the first game of the season resulted in a torn ACL, torn meniscus, and a sprained MCL.

“When you overcome cancer and two serious knee injuries, it’s just one more experience, one more example to pass to the young guys,” Nene said.

It is that type of maturity and focus that the Wizards acquired when they got Nene and shipped Nick Young and JaVale McGee — neither known for maturity — out of town. But coming to the Wizards was a 48-hour odyssey of strange circumstances that Nene was not ready to talk about just yet.

Asked how he found out about the trade, Nene shook his head and responded, “You don’t want to know.”

“It was crazy. It was tough. I still have no clue what happened,” Nene said, admitting surprise at being dealt to Washington after signing a five-year, $67 million contract with the Nuggets in December.

Still, Nene says he is ready to contribute and already has embraced his role as a veteran leader on a young team. After one practice, he said he can see the similarities between his new point guard, John Wall, and his old one, Ty Lawson.

“John reminds me of Ty,” Nene said. “Both are young and athletic. There’s a lot of talent there. Both of them are players who are almost there, they just need to understand the game a little bit better.”

Nene brushed aside concerns that it will be a tough for him to fit in with a team that wants to get out and run. He’s talked to Wizards coach Randy Wittman and believes he’ll fit in just fine.

Seraphin already seems comfortable with his new mentor. The two sat on the practice court after their workout and talked about basketball and soccer.

“I can learn a lot from him,” Seraphin said. “He knows the game. For me, that’s a great feeling. I don’t see it like, ‘Now Nene is there; I’m not going to play.’ I can improve on my game by watching him play.”

On his first day at Verizon Center, Nene went through rounds of interviews, a photo shoot in his new uniform and had a lengthy conversation with the equipment manager. The two were seen laughing as they shared a prolonged handshake, while Nene tugged on his oversized T-shirt and described the brace he wears on his right knee.

Seraphin watched, and nodded at his new teammate.

“I like him,” Seraphin said. “He’s cool.”