- The Washington Times - Monday, October 14, 2002

After most Washington Wizards practices, chances are rookies Juan Dixon or Jared Jeffries or both will be hoisting jump shots, shooting free throws or just getting in some extra conditioning work. The jump from college to the NBA is hardly a small one, so the rookies are cramming like a college student the night before a final exam.
So far, they've aced their tests the Wizards' two 2002 first-round draft choices have made great strides and left positive impressions on their coaches and teammates in their first two weeks with the team.
"The thing I think that really stands out is they've really earned the respect of the veterans," coach Doug Collins said after both rookies turned out strong efforts in the Oct.8 scrimmage that culminated training camp. "You could just see our veteran players like being on the floor with them, they like how hard they work. They like the fact that they've come in and played with the kind of energy they've played with."
Veterans have taken notice of the rookies' after-practice shooting sessions, how Dixon and Jeffries attended voluntary 8a.m. training camp weightlifting sessions, how they pepper older players with questions, trying to glean every bit of information they can. A mutual respect has been forged.
"They work extremely hard, and I'm not just saying that because they're my guys," Jerry Stackhouse said. "They want it. They want to get better."
Both players began their acclimation to the NBA in the Wizards' first preseason game Thursday night against the 76ers; that process continues tonight when the Wizards again face the Sixers in Philadelphia.
Dixon will again have a tough assignment, the dynamic Allen Iverson. Dixon went through round 1 Thursday and, not surprisingly, he didn't back down he stayed in Iverson's face all evening and was aggressive, unfazed by the three-time scoring champion.
"I wanted to challenge him every step I could," Dixon said. "He's a great player, a tough assignment, but I'm going to play with my heart and compete every minute of the game."
With fans applauding nearly his every step Thursday night, it was clear that Dixon, Maryland's all-time leading scorer and leader of the 2002 national champion, comes in as a crowd favorite. He also showed he's far from gun-shy on the pro level he took 18 shots, making five.
Jeffries got the start at power forward Thursday but missed his first five shots from the field. He eventually settled down and finished with eight points and five rebounds in 26 minutes.
Dixon is not without a few faults, including stubbornly wanting to dribble his way out of tough defensive pressure in the backcourt. Collins wants him to give the ball up earlier and work more coming off screens in the halfcourt. He also wants Dixon to use his energy more efficiently, but the coach is enamored with his work ethic.
"He wants to do so well," Collins said during training camp. "He comes up to me every day and says, 'Coach, I'm going to be better today.' I tell him, 'I know Juan, I know.'"
Dixon and Jeffries have sought out several veterans for insight on the pro game. Dixon said he has learned the most from Tyronn Lue, whom he battled throughout training camp and whose defensive pressure has made Dixon a better ballhandler.
Notes The Wizards cut 6-foot-11 center Horacio Llamas , bringing their roster to 17 players. Collins said he would consider holding out one of the Wizards' big men possibly Christian Laettner tonight to give other players more minutes. There is also a possibility Chris Whitney, who was healthy but held out of Thursday's game to give Lue and Dixon more time at the point, might not play again tonight. If Collins chooses to do that, he said Whitney would likely play tomorrow when the Wizards play Denver in Fayetteville, N.C. Etan Thomas said he has recovered from a hamstring injury and will play tonight.


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