- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 10, 2002

WILMINGTON, N.C. "Let's get outta here. Outta here," Tyronn Lue blurted as he left the Trask Coliseum gym for the last time. Another teammate simply repeated, "It's over."

Obviously some Washington Wizards players had had their fill of all the drills, sprints and two-a-day practices that go with training camp, which ended with its ninth day yesterday. Probably more than anything, players are simply looking forward to playing against somebody other than themselves; they'll get that chance when they open the preseason tonight against the Philadelphia 76ers at MCI Center.

"We've been playing against each other all week," Lue said. "We're just looking forward to beating up on another team."

That team will be the Sixers, who already have been beaten up by injuries. Star guard Allen Iverson suffered a fractured right middle finger in training camp and likely will miss the rest of the preseason. Derrick Coleman, Greg Buckner, Sam Clancy and Monty Williams also are hurt and didn't play in Tuesday's loss to San Antonio.

The Wizards enter the preseason relatively healthy except for 6-foot-10 forward Etan Thomas, who missed most of camp with a strained hamstring. Later in camp, Thomas was able to participate in some drills but didn't play in scrimmages or get involved in any contact. Center Ratko Varda also has been limited the last few days by a hamstring injury.

Thomas will have his hamstring evaluated today and expects to be cleared to return to the court full time. Thomas won't play in tonight's game, as coach Doug Collins wants him to go through a few practices before getting game action.

"I worked hard the whole summer to be prepared, and you get hurt it's one of those things you can't control," Thomas said. "I just have to work harder. It's something I have to do."

Collins said his priority in the preseason is to play a number of the younger players like Kwame Brown, Jared Jeffries and Juan Dixon to lessen their learning curve. Otherwise, Collins said, he might choose to hold out a couple players rather than spreading the minutes between all the players on the roster.

"I always hated it as a player to play 12 or 14 minutes," Collins said. "I'd much rather play 24 or 25 minutes and sit a game out. The one thing I don't want our guys to do is lose conditioning."

Collins installed defensive elements first and wanted to bring the offense along slowly as the team's new players learned how to play with each other. Collins has one phase of the team's offense in place and will incorporate other sets into the framework throughout the preseason.

"I don't want to start running plays for individual guys right now," Collins said. "I want us to really get to feel each other out in a team concept."

The Wizards entered camp intending to successfully mix in the returning players with new acquisitions. Collins and players said that process has materialized nicely and like the way the team is taking shape.

"We've got a long way to go, but of course it's always good when you get a totally new group, guys who haven't been together, and they come together and pull for each other like they have," said one of those new players, Jerry Stackhouse. "Every day our bond has started to get a little better and we still have eight games of the preseason and practices to get it sharper."

Said Collins: "I think we're starting to build an identity, I think the guys are starting to bond together and get a closeness. Those are all great things. I think we had a very, very productive nine days."


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