- The Washington Times - Monday, December 10, 2001

Brendan Haywood wanted to hide on the night of the NBA Draft last June.
Projected to be a late lottery pick going into the draft, Haywood squirmed in his seat as teams passed on him.
He thought some of those teams liked him after he had worked for them in the weeks leading to the draft. That is what they had told him anyway. We like you, they said. We like your size, the 268 pounds on a 7-foot frame. We like your mobility. Blah, blah, blah. That was not helping him now.
In a way, draft night was a roast for Haywood. The whispers and suspicions lurking in his presence along the ACC followed him to the NBA's coming-out party, costing him money, prestige and the joy of it all.
They said he should have been so much more dominant at North Carolina. He never had that so-called "breakout season." He showed no real progression in productivity. He averaged 12.3 points in his last season after averaging 12.0 points as a sophomore. He was only a so-so rebounder, too. He wasn't even a member of the all-ACC first team last season, being relegated to the second team behind Georgia Tech's Alvin Jones.
They said so much nonsense, those darn draftniks, that it became gospel. They said he was soft, inconsistent, prone to fouls, awkward at times, uncertain, inclined to disappear in the last six or seven minutes of a game. He was, it seemed, the latest personification of the dreaded e-word, enigma.
It hurt to see the high school kiddies making the march to the podium to shake hands with David Stern. It hurt to see this or that name being called before his. The Magic took Stephan Hunter with the 15th pick in the first round. That one really smacked the old ego. Didn't the Magic say he was tops on their list?
Haywood wound up tumbling to No. 20 on draft night, becoming a footnote, in effect, so much body-shuffling paper work. He was traded by the Cavaliers to the Magic in exchange for Michael Doleac, mostly because the Magic wanted to rid themselves of Doleac's $2 million salary.
Haywood landed in Washington in a seemingly incidental transaction after the Wizards parted with Laron Profit and a future first-round pick Aug. 1. What did they say then? As usual, they said he had good size, and that you can't teach size. You might have thought they were reading from the manual about what to say regarding a big man with flaws.
His relevance remained debatable after he tore a ligament in his left thumb and went on the injured list at the start of the season.
After missing the team's first 12 games, he was activated in time to play 30 minutes in the stink bomb in Cleveland on Nov. 27.
Even in that game, forgettable as it was, he was active around the basket. Soft? Who said he was soft? He didn't seem to mind the bumping and jostling underneath the basket, and even while playing with a soft cast to protect his left thumb, he appeared to have sure hands.
Haywood, in seven games, has emerged as an essential contributor. It just so happens the Wizards have a 4-3 record in those seven games. Michael Jordan has done the heavy lifting in the fourth quarter of the last two games, both victories, but Haywood has allowed the Wizards to feel almost whole.
For the first time since the days of the painfully limited Gheorge Muresan, the Wizards have what amounts to a legitimate center in Haywood. His numbers are not always there, of course. He is still just a rookie, although a rookie with four seasons at UNC behind him. Yet his activity level is constant, and he is a quick leaper, the principal reason he is able to block or alter as many shots as he does and dunk as often he does.
Haywood had 19 points and seven rebounds in 28 minutes against the Mavericks on Saturday night, no small element in the Wizards' surprising victory on the road against what is expected to be one of the top four teams in the Western Conference.
Haywood has not necessarily passed through some unmarked threshold, but he has shown himself to be more than a back-page afterthought. He has real potential, and he has had the good grace to exercise some of it for a team in desperate need of what only a 7-footer can provide.

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