- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 7, 2002

In a season where players and coaches seem to be at each other's throats more so than at any time in recent memory, Doug Collins once known for his Type A personality and his ability to get under a guy's skin is at peace and in harmony with his Washington Wizards.

As the Wizards prepare for their last game before the All-Star break, tonight's MCI Center meeting with Pacific Division-leading Sacramento, they are very much in the jostling for playoff positioning something few thought possible when they started the season 2-9.

Much of the credit goes to Michael Jordan, who has rarely looked like a player who will turn 39 later this month. Richard Hamilton has emerged as a future All-Star, and Popeye Jones probably has played better than Christian Laettner would have if he weren't injured.

Alhough Collins remains fiery on the bench and very demanding overall, he has not irritated his players. Once known as a coach whose players dreaded practice and playing for him, Collins seems to have shed that reputation in favor of promoting great chemistry.

"I'm thrilled," said Collins, Jordan's handpicked coach. "The one thing I wanted to do when I came in here was try to create a different attitude. I knew that this was a franchise that has really suffered in the last 17 or so years. I've always felt like the first step is establishing a good attitude in the locker room and a good work ethic on the court.

"Then you've got to bond the guys together and make them feel like they're all part of something that's happening here that's going to be good. I really enjoy coaching these guys. I've got good guys. They all want to win."

Collins, who never seemed completely comfortable as a younger coach with Chicago and Detroit, has reason to be happy with the Wizards (25-21). A quick look around the league at the midway mark reveals that many coaches can't seem to get along with their players.

In Milwaukee, where the Bucks have held the Central Division lead for much of the first half, it seems a day doesn't go by that doesn't see coach George Karl complaining about the play of Ray Allen, Sam Cassell or Glenn Robinson, the players most directly responsible for the team's success.

The Knicks already have been accused by some of quitting on former coach Jeff Van Gundy's replacement, Don Chaney.

In Minnesota, Flip Saunders has publicly criticized All-Star Wally Szczerbiak for his suggestion that his own teammates have been freezing him out of the offense during the Timberwolves' recent swoon.

And after Utah coach Jerry Sloan pulled center Greg Ostertag from Tuesday's rout by lowly Memphis in the third quarter because of his lazy play, Ostertag showed his disrespect for the league's longest tenured coach by bumping him out of the way as he headed toward the Utah bench. Sloan shoved the pudgy center in the back, ordered him into the locker room and a team-imposed fine is expected any day.

In Washington hours earlier, the scenario was much different. Collins made his rounds of the locker room, taking time to compliment his players on their fourth win in a row and sixth in seven games.

When he got to center Jahidi White solid with eight points and 14 rebounds in the Wizards' 99-94 victory against Toronto White told him, 'Coach, I'm just glad to be here.'"

That hasn't always been the case, not with White but with other more recognizable players whom Jordan made a point of purging from the Wizards' roster. White, like most of the other players, had heard about Collins' reputation for going ballistic and his sometimes uncompromising approach. However, White and most of his teammates have found they like playing for Collins.

"I think he's been a great coach for us. He's been a player's coach, and he's also a very emotional coach," White said. "He's just a good coach. He's good at X's and O's, all of that. And the players respond to him because of that."

White, whom the Wizards drafted in 1998, and guard Chris Whitney, with the team since 1995, are the two longest tenured players on the roster. They've seen wars between players and coaches Gar Heard vs. Rod Strickland probably ranks as the gold standard here in recent years and they don't want a return to those days.

Following the victory over the Raptors before what Collins said was the best home crowd all season, Whitney and White talked about the way things used to be. They don't long for the old days.

"The good thing about it is, you know nobody's going to pinch you and you wake up and it's the same old Wizards," White says. "It feels real good to know that you're in a winning situation."


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