- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 16, 2001

Kwame Brown, pulled from the starting lineup earlier in the season when the pro game overwhelmed the 19-year-old, is getting another shot to start for the Washington Wizards.
Brown, selected with the first pick in the NBA Draft, will replace Christian Laettner at power forward today against Toronto. Laettner sustained a broken left leg Friday that will keep him sidelined for at least a month.
For Brown, this is a chance at redemption. His third start will give him a chance to prove to coach Doug Collins that he is ready to contribute, something he clearly wasn't able to do earlier.
Asked how much better prepared he is than when he went 2-for-9 from the field and scored all of nine points in losses to Seattle and Milwaukee, Brown replied, "We'll see. I'm still moving a little bit too fast. Coach keeps telling me to slow down when I make my moves in the post. Popeye [Jones] keeps telling me to slow down and try to go by your guy instead of straight at him. I think it will come with time.
"I feel a little bit nervous," continued Brown, who last started Nov. 14. "Hopefully, I won't bring the team down any and I'll be able to start and keep the team rolling."
The Wizards (10-12) take a five-game winning streak into today's game against the Raptors (12-11) in Toronto, and a victory would give them their longest winning streak since Dec. 1998 when Brown was a high school freshman.
When Collins removed Brown from the starting lineup after his second start, he acknowledged that the rookie clearly was not ready to contribute. Too often Collins' complex plays have gone over Brown's head. And on defense, particularly during the team's eight-game losing streak, Brown became lost on rotations and failed to display even a basic understanding of screen and roll.
But after levying harsh criticism of Brown's preparedness to play and conditioning he once said the rookie was in shape to 'play a high school game' Collins has backed off, choosing instead to heap praise on him for the way he has continued to work to get himself ready.
So what is Collins looking for from Brown?
"I want him to be aware and recognizing what we're trying to do, because I am sure his mind is going to be going 1,000 miles per hour, which I expect it to be," said Collins. "I hope our guys, when I put him in that starting group, can sort of help him along if he gets out there and gets a little bit disoriented. I want him to rebound, run the floor and just be a part of what we're trying to do. I don't want him to do anything special."
Laettner's injury also means that Etan Thomas will be back in the rotation. In his second year, Thomas has played just 80 minutes in his career. Fortunately for the Wizards, Jones and Laettner often work with the team's young big men after practice. Jones, who prefers coming off the bench, feels Brown and Thomas have worked hard to be prepared for this situation. And he is particularly confident that Brown will be better than he was earlier.
"Now they get their opportunity, and they have to take full advantage of it and keep this thing rolling," Jones said. "I think Kwame's improved a lot. I think he's welcoming the challenge. He wants to be in there … he wants to help us win. So I think he's really excited. I'm happy for him, and hopefully he can get the job done."
Although Laettner has not put up numbers in line with the four-year, $21 million contract that makes him the team's highest paid player he's averaging just 8.5 points and 5.7 rebounds Collins complimented him yesterday, saying, "Christian does a lot of little things at both ends that make us a better team period."
Brown may catch a bit of a break today because the Raptors' regular starting power forward, Antonio Davis, is listed as day-to-day with a sore knee that has kept him out of four consecutive games. However, it gets tougher Tuesday when Atlanta and Shareef Abdur-Rahim come to town.
Whatever the case may be, Brown doesn't want fingers to be pointed in his direction if the Wizards begin to sputter.
"I can't play mistake-free," he said. "I just want to play hard. I don't want [critics] to be able to say we're not winning or we're not doing this because we're weak at the power forward spot. I want them to be able to say those guys are working their [tails] off and they're playing hard."

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