- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 6, 2002

It's only fitting that now, when the Washington Wizards' ride is as smooth as it has been in years, the longest-tenured player is having the time of his life.
"I think so," Chris Whitney said. "But it's because we're winning and I'm a contributor in a big way. That was always most important to me. I go out and try to give my all each and every day, and it's paying off with team success and individual success, which is what I believe in. So I'm definitely having a lot of fun now."
With what he's been through in Washington, Whitney deserves it.
Reaching this point where he is the starting point guard on a team that is just three games out of first place in the Atlantic Division is a testament to his staying power. Before the 30-year-old Whitney became a Wizard five seasons ago, he had been cut by both the Spurs and the Raptors.
Before the Wizards signed him to a 10-day-contract in the spring of 1996, he had already done two turns in the CBA. That same spring, Whitney honed his skills with the Florida Beach Dogs before coming to Washington with an outside chance of making the team.
The hurdles were still there even after he played well enough that the Wizards offered him a contract for the remainder of the 1996 season. Since that time he has sat behind Rod Strickland, been demoted to third string, battled numerous ankle injuries and been forced to hear he was incapable of being a starter in the NBA.
And even after the Wizards bought out the remainder of Strickland's contract, clearing the way for Whitney to start at last, the Wizards brought in Tyronn Lue from the Los Angeles Lakers to push Whitney and, if he could, ultimately supplant him in the lineup.
But Whitney won the starting job this season thanks to his strong play in training camp. However, Whitney's professionalism never has allowed him to gloat. Instead, he has helped Lue shake an early season slump and grasp coach Doug Collins' offense. As a result, the Wizards are getting solid play at the point for the full 48 minutes, and the two players with starkly different playing styles are playing a major role in the team's success.
"He's got a good basketball mind, he wants to win and I really like being around him," Collins said. "He's a winner."
Although his scoring average (8.0) and assists (3.3) are not stunning, Whitney is playing a huge roll in the greater scheme of things. For instance, only Dallas commits fewer turnovers (12.1) than the Wizards (12.5).
Whitney is also the most prolific 3-point shooter (41-for-99) on a Washington team that is second from behind the 3-point arc (39.1 percent) only to San Antonio (40 percent).
Although not as good a shooter from outside as Whitney, Lue complements him by allowing the Wizards to run a more uptempo offense when he comes into games. And after a shaky start, Lue has settled down and become a much better all-around player.
Much of which he credits Whitney.
"'C-Whit' has taught me a lot of things," Lue said. "We have a great relationship. You would think that with two people competing, at least one person would want things to be bad for the other guy. But we have a great relationship. Whenever I have a question about whether I'm doing something right, he always gives me positive answers. That's the best thing about it. He's always been there for me. It's a great thing to know that you're competing against someone but at the same time they're always in your corner and they're there to help you out. We've become great friends."
Said Whitney: "Our relationship has grown. I think we complement each other well. We can do different things when he's in the game and when I'm in the game. He comes to me for help and I'm glad that I can help him in any kind of way. But he's going to be a good player."
While most of their contributions have come at the offensive end, Collins has enough faith in the two 6-footers to play them at the same time when the Wizards, as they often do now, go to a small lineup. Other teams almost immediately try to post-up one of the two players.
"We take that personally," Whitney said. "But that changes what teams have to do against us, too. There's a second ball-handler in there now. We both can push the ball; we both can shoot the ball. We play well together. It's a nice mixture when we're out there together."


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