- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Emeka Okafor knows what it’s like to be on a young and struggling team. The second pick in the 2004 NBA draft, Okafor was the first selection by the expansion Charlotte Bobcats.

“The Bobcats — that was a very interesting experience,” Okafor said. “I’ve been a part of young teams, so I know what to expect.”

What he expects are a lot of mistakes and a lot of growing pains. But Okafor believes that with the right mix of veterans and young players, the Wizards might be lucky enough to avoid some of those mistakes.

Expected to get the start at center Thursday when the Wizards host the New York Knicks in the team’s only home preseason game, Okafor is anxious to play after missing 39 games last season with a knee injury.

He also sat out Sunday’s preseason game against the Bobcats for precautionary reasons. Okafor, along with Trevor Ariza, was acquired in a trade from the New Orleans Hornets for Rashard Lewis and a draft pick.

In 27 games last season, Okafor averaged 9.9 points and 7.9 rebounds, down slightly from his career averages of 12.7 points and 10.1 rebounds. He expects to use the preseason to work himself back into game shape.

From his seat on the sidelines in Charlotte on Sunday, he identified the No. 1 thing the Wizards need to fix when they take on the Knicks.

“Transition killed us,” Okafor said. “It just looked like some guys trying to get it together.”

But the Wizards’ struggles in their preseason opener didn’t trouble him too much.

“It’s just one game,” he said.

The Wizards have had two practices since Sunday’s 100-88 loss to Charlotte. Although training camp ended when the team left George Mason University, the camp mantra will continue.

“This whole month has been an evaluation process, so it’s going to be fine-tuning every game,” Okafor said. “Different players, different rotations, time for everybody to get together and figure it out. There have been improvements. I’m just curious to see game-by-game improvement. It’s going to be a little bit of ebb and flow, but it’s all moving in the right direction so far.”

Now entering his ninth season, Okafor has quickly stepped into a leadership role. With veteran center Nene out indefinitely, Okafor’s leadership is crucial to the team.

“I’m excited to get out there with my teammates and coaches,” Okafor said.