- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 17, 2001

Since the beginning of training camp early this month, Washington Wizards rookie center Brendan Haywood did all the right things to dispel some of the unflattering labels that were placed on him during his four years at the University of North Carolina.

Specifically, no one was calling him "soft," the tag he was branded with throughout his college career.

However, in the near future, he won't be able to continue to make his case as a legitimate NBA center. That's because yesterday the Wizards found out that Haywood will miss at least the next three weeks including the start of the regular season with torn ligaments in his left thumb.

"He's pretty banged up," Wizards coach Doug Collins said of Haywood, who yesterday had his thumb in a cast. "Surgery is a possibility. If that's the case he could miss up to two months."

Michael Jordan also sat out last night's private intra-squad scrimmage at MCI Center for area police, fire and rescue workers. Jordan did not play due to a strained left foot he suffered during Saturday's preseason game at Miami. Jordan is listed as day-to-day.

The Wizards acquired the 7-foot, 261-pound Haywood over the summer in a trade that sent Laron Profit and a future first round pick to Orlando. Profit, who didn't fit in with the Wizards during his two seasons, was cut by the Magic last weekend.

In fact, there was an outside chance that Haywood was going to start at center when the Wizards open the season Oct. 30. Collins said earlier that Haywood and Jahidi White, who missed last night's game and is listed as day-to-day with tendinitis in his left knee, are "about even" in the battle for the job.

"Brendan knows how to play," Collins said. "He's tall and he can block shots and run the floor well. If you get him the ball in the paint he's got an excellent jump hook."

However, in the same breath, Collins tempers his enthusiasm, primarily because the Wizards have a shortage of experienced big men on the roster. And even though Haywood has size, Collins is waiting to see him demonstrate that he can battle down low against other big men.

"The one weakness he has shown so far is not rebounding the ball well. That's the one area he is really going to have to work on because that's going to be one of our keys if we're going to get out and run," Collins said.

Haywood put up decent numbers in college, but he was never dominant. As a senior, he averaged 12.3 points and 7.3 rebounds, nothing spectacular for a Carolina big man.

But Haywood was above average defensively his entire career, and this is what has the Wizards smiling. Haywood blocked 120 shots his senior year, and his 304 career rejections are a school record.

"Defense has always been a strong aspect of my game. As for being soft, I can't change what people might have felt about me," Haywood said.

Jordan, who also played at North Carolina, is a staunch supporter of Haywood, and he refutes the notion that Haywood is soft.

"I never thought Brendan was a soft player," Jordan said. "I think people were looking at him in particular games where he didn't play that well. But there are no soft players coming from North Carolina. I think that's a label that they put on him. But with his play he can certainly eliminate that."

Haywood has earned high marks from just about everyone in camp. One player who has spoken highly of Haywood is forward Christian Laettner.

"Brendan Haywood is going to be a great player once he gets used to the physical aspect of the NBA," said Laettner, who often pulls Haywood aside in practice to give him pointers. "He's got to get adjusted to the banging, and he's going to have to develop an attitude that won't let you quit. When he does that, and it will come, he's going to be a very good player for a long time."

Notes Kwame Brown sat out last night's scrimmage with a sprained right ankle he suffered Saturday against Miami. Brown is listed as day-to-day. Jahidi White also missed last night's game due to tendinitis in his left knee. Richard Hamilton led all scores with 23 points but it wasn't enough to lift the White team to victory. The Blue team, led by Courtney Alexander's 16 points, scored a 60-55 victory. Etan Thomas added 11 points and 10 rebounds for the winners.

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