Now on Day 5 of training camp, the Wizards got another good practice in, Flip said. Early on the primary focus was defense and installing some new concepts on that end of the floor and some more half-court offensive schemes.
But to kick off the day, Saunders brought in a football, divided his players up into pairs and had one player play quarterback and the other play receiver and they ran pass routes on the court.
“It’s football Saturday!” Saunders said when asked about it afterwards. “It’s something we used to do in Detroit. Just another way to get guys to concentrate as far as catching the ball, running patterns, get guys working on footwork, get guys loosened up, and see what guys can throw and who can’t.”
The best converted football players were Mike James and Randy Foye, both of whom played football growing up. James said he played quarterback and defensive back early in his high school career until the day he broke his wrist, and it was all over after that.
“It was on a Friday and I handed my uniform in on a Monday, and I told the football coach, ‘I wish you all the best of luck on your future, but don’t you ever call my house again looking for me to play. I don’t care how good y’all think I can get in this game, but me, I’m a basketball player.’ I made up my mind right there. Right when I started to get good that’s when I quit, then I started to dedicate myself as a basketball player. But for a second, I thought I could be a football player.”
On how he did today: “You can see, I have all the moves. I enjoyed playing defensive back…. Randy Foye and I were teammates. You had a receiver and one had to be quarterback. And Randy and I looked like we knew what we were doing out there, but everyone else… Randy and I looked like before we played a lot of football, and everyone else looked like they just played a lot of Madden.”
Foye said that football and baseball were his first loves as a youth, but once he got involved with travel basketball, he gave them up.
He praised Saunders’ creativity because when the Wizards hit the gym, Foye said, everyone was dragging just a bit.
“Today was one of those days that everyone came in and was working hard but you could see they was a little bit down. Then, we thought we was going to do drills and they threw footballs at us. Everybody started running patterns and got loose. Coach is unbelievable at getting us ready for practice, ready to go. Even though we had two hard practices, three hard practices in two-a-days, he threw the footballs out there to get us excited about what we were doing and to get us loose, to take our minds off of basketball for a little bit. Then get right back into basketball.”
Foye said that he was the best football player on the court.
“It would be me by far,” he said. “That’s the first thing. I didn’t even say nothing. That was the first thing they said, you look so fluent throwing the ball and running patterns, catching the ball. that’s what I do. Growing up I played football all the time.”
Dominic McGuire played quarterback all through high school, but chose to pursue basketball for his post-high school career because he kept growing and was told he had a real future in the sport.
He said he had a highlight play himself on the day, but blamed his partner Nick Young for making him look bad as a quarterback.
“It was nice. It was nice. You got to ask everybody about the Randy Moss I caught over Nick. It was nice,” McGuire said before being asked about Foye’s performance. “He was throwing some passes. The thing is, my receiver, which was Nick, he was kind of goofy and kept thinking he was going to run into stuff. It’s a big court. That messed me up.”
Once the Wizards were done with their football play, they got into it on the court for a three-hour-long practice. To conclude the day, the Wizards went through three scrimmages. The final scrimmage featured a rather intriguing lineup that gave a glimpse of the versatility that will be a strength of the Wizards should they manage to stay healthy this season.
Saunders had the teams divided in two: Black team and Grey team. The starting lineup for the Black team had Gilbert Arenas running the point with Mike Miller at the shooting guard, Antawn Jamison at small forward, Andray Blatche at power forward and Brendan Haywood at center.
As if the lineup wasn’t long enough in the traditional placement, at one point while sporting a matchup zone, Blatche and Miller were at the top of the key and had the 6-4 Foye pinned along the halfcourt.
“That was a big lineup there,” Saunders said. “The way our zone is, it’s a matchup zone, so depending on who you’re matched in the zone initially and what cuts are made, some times your big guys will be up top. I do have one zone where we start with our big guy up top. But that was our big group. Mike’s probably 6-9, he was the two-guard, you had Antawn at the three, Andray at the four and Brendan five, and Gil, so other than him, those other four spots, their average height is probably 6-10, so that’s a pretty big lineup.”
All that length swallowed up the Grey squad of Randy Foye at the 1, DeShawn at the 2, Caron Butler at the 3, McGuire at the 4 and JaVale McGee at the 5.
The Black team trounced their counterpart, jumping out to a 14-0 lead until with 49 seconds left, the Grey team added a sixth man (Nick Young), and Butler hit a pull-up J, to avoid the shutout.
When asked if this team was upset about giving up the shutout, Jamison said, “Man, they cheated. They had six guys out there. Even Gil was upset, he was like, ‘Don’t give them [anything].”
Jamison said that hungry, defensive mindset that his team has taken on this preseason is a good thing, and one that he expects to carry over into the regular season.
“Gil’s talking about being out there talking junk, but you’ve gotta put him on his [butt],” he said. “It’s not about letting guys getting into it dunking, yelling. We have to be a smart, physical team to execute defensively and make it tough on our opponents.”
Going back to that big lineup, obviously Butler would start, and Blatche likely will come off the bench to relieve Jamison, but in certain situations, that’s a dangerous squad.
Said Jamison: “I can play the three or the four, I’ve done it before offensively and defensively. It’s just a change of pace. If you’re a team and you see Brendan and Dray, or Brendan and Oberto or Brendan and JaVale and myself and Caron, that’s a tough lineup. Especially what we do with one of our zone defenses. And what I like is you have guys that have to be accountable on the perimeter and the way the defense is set up, if you’ve got help you know where to send the ball. It can be a good change of pace. I can see it being difficult for any team to keep us off the board with that lineup or to get any type of rebounds.”
The Wizards have one practice tomorrow, from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.