- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 11, 2001

Many who watched Brendan Haywood during his four years at North Carolina felt the center never quite lived up to the promise that comes with being a 7-footer who's 268 pounds.

Quite simply, 12.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and the 120 blocks in his senior season the most ever in a single season by a North Carolina player were not enough to quell the whispers that the rookie was a chronic underachiever who could have done so much more.

And it didn't help that that he appeared to be lightly regarded around the NBA. He was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers with the 20th pick this year and was shipped to the Orlando Magic for Michael Doleac. He ended up in Washington when the Wizards traded Laron Profit and a future first-round draft pick for him.

However, none of that criticism seems to rankle Haywood, whom the Wizards signed to a three-year, $2.6 million deal. At the moment at least, he is the leading candidate to be Washington's backup center behind Jahidi White.

"I've never been one that really worries about what other people say, whether it be media, fans or whatever," Haywood said yesterday at MCI Center. "I go out there and I play to the best of my ability. I try to impress my friends, family and the coaching staff, and those are the only people I aim to impress."

Haywood contemplated turning pro after a stellar junior season in which he set an ACC record for field goal percentage (69.7) and led the Tar Heels to the Final Four. Haywood, the the Tar Heels' all-time leader in blocked shots (304), no doubt heard the whispers and decided that he needed another year on Tobacco Road to develop.

"I had a decent year, and I thought about maybe turning pro," Haywood said, "but I felt our team could have done a little bit better we had a lot of guys that were coming back. But I also wanted to get stronger overall in my body and my legs."

Despite the question marks that will accompany him into training camp in October for example, was he worth trading away a future first-round pick? Washington does look like a perfect place for Haywood to start his NBA career.

White has not demonstrated the consistency that a player with a $24.5 million contract should exhibit and at times has hurt the Wizards. If that doesn't change particularly if president of basketball operations Michael Jordan does come out of retirement there's little doubt that Haywood, the only 7-footer on the team, could see plenty of minutes early in the season.

"I'm just trying to come in and help the team win no matter what that is," Haywood said. "If that's grabbing a lot of rebounds, blocking shots, it doesn't really matter to me as long as the team is winning. I'm not going to be one of those people that say I want to be the Rookie of the Year coming in here. I think that's a little too cocky. I just want to help the team win in whatever way I can."

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