- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 8, 2002

WILMINGTON, N.C. Most players with all of one game of experience in the NBA would likely be concerned about making a team's roster at this time of year.

And that is the top priority for the Washington Wizards' Ratko Varda, a 7-foot-1 Yugoslavian center. He has some extra incentive, though: He wants to avoid going back to his country, where he would have to enlist in the army.

"I feel I can make this team and I hope I can make this team," Varda said.

Varda, 23, spoke yesterday in English, a language he didn't know a word of last year. He was signed as a free agent in July 2001 by Detroit, and after preparing for his rookie season in his native country, his arrival in the U.S. was delayed because he could not obtain the proper visa.

He played in one game last season while he became accustomed to living in the United States and to a different brand of basketball. He also battled back spasms later in the year. He was traded with Jerry Stackhouse and Brian Cardinal from the Pistons to the Wizards on Sept.11.

Last season, he had countryman and Pistons center Zeljko Rebraca to hang around with, but now, he's on his own and trying to earn a roster spot with the Wizards.

"When I first heard [about the trade], I was really upset because my English is not good and I knew Detroit well," Varda said. "When I got traded, I didn't expect it. But for a couple days after, I was very happy because I'm playing with some very good players. It's a great opportunity for me."

He has battled a strained hamstring this week and missed some practice time, but if he remains in the NBA, he doesn't have to return to Yugoslavia, where his wife, Dragana, and their daughters still live.

"I don't think about [going back to Yugoslavia]," Varda said. "My only thinking is about the NBA. If I can play here, I want to prove myself here and after that, I can think about maybe going back."

Whitney, Thomas on way back

Chris Whitney went through most of the morning workout and coach Doug Collins said he moved much better after sustaining a hip flexor injury Saturday night.

Collins also said Etan Thomas, out for the first six days of camp with a pulled hamstring, participated in all of yesterday morning's drills and was "much more mobile." Still, Thomas will have to get in some more on-court conditioning before he scrimmages or plays in preseason games.

"It looks like he's closer to being able to get out and do some stuff with us," Collins said.

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