- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 13, 2002

Brendan Haywood moves about the Washington Wizards' minicamp with the coolness of a player who looks like he belongs. The same goes for Etan Thomas. And rightly so.

The second-year big men, along with Kwame Brown, last season's top pick in the NBA Draft, have in a year's time gone from wide-eyed rookies to players who will be counted on from the opening game to play huge roles in the Wizards' 2002-03 campaign.

Even though the Wizards' focus right now is on minicamp and preparing players for the Shaw's Pro Summer League in Boston beginning Monday, the true work for the Wizards' big men begins next month when Thomas, Brown, Haywood and Jahidi White go to Pete Newell's Big Man Camp.

"I think that it shows that they are really looking for us to step up and have an impact this year," said Haywood, who earned NBA Rookie of the Month honors in December. "Last year we got our feet wet. This year we have to step up to a higher level."

Thomas, who blossomed late in the season when he finally saw some regular playing time, agreed.

"[Newells] camp is one of the most prestigious camps for big men," Thomas said. "They made a conscious decision that they want to establish us down low. They want us to have good footwork, to know what we're supposed to do and do the things they want us to do. So it's definitely a compliment to us. But it's also telling us that we've got to keep working and that one day it will be our turn."

Haywood and Thomas are more relaxed than they were as rookies. They are two of the four players in camp who were with the team last season.

The same can not be said of Brown, who last year became the first high school player ever to be drafted as the top pick.

Brown has not spoken to the media but has been good-natured in rejecting interviews. Yesterday, according to sources, he dominated the workouts. But he has not made the Wizards happy.

"He's not in shape," said one source. "He's not where we hoped he would be."

Brown, according to Thomas, made the commitment to spend most of his summer in Washington, rather than going home to prepare for the season.

"Kwame knows what's expected of him," Thomas said. "He learned from last year."

He had to, because his rookie season was the stuff of nightmares. Last year the 6-foot-11, 245-pounder averaged 4.5 points, giving him the lowest scoring total of any top pick since Portland's LaRue Martin averaged 4.4 for Portland 29 years ago. Martin was a 7-5 center.

"Kwame simply can't come out and be the same player he was last year," Wizards coach Doug Collins said.

Not long after the practice, rookie Jared Jeffries, the 6-10 inch 11th pick in the 2002 draft, leaned over the seated Thomas and playfully conducted his own mock interview, something many young players often do.

Earlier in the day, Jeffries, who might soon be part of a Washington contingent to Hawaii, had impressed the coaching staff in the morning session with ball-handling and passing skills they did not know he possessed.

After the two exchanged pleasantries and Jeffries headed for the showers, Thomas became pensive, sounding much older than his 24 years.

"He's a good kid," Thomas said. "I'm going to like playing with him. He has a hard work ethic, and I'm impressed with him as a player. I watched him last year. From what I've seen, he's going to fit in real nice around here."

Spoken like a veteran.

Notes Bobby Simmons did not practice last night because of a league rule that restricts teams from having more than three veterans in the building at the same time during camp. Haywood skipped the morning session for the same reason.

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