- The Washington Times - Monday, December 22, 2003

Success for the Washington Wizards thus far this season is being measured in the smallest of increments.

Longest winning streak? Two games (twice).

Games played with both Jerry Stackhouse and Gilbert Arenas in the lineup? Zero.

Get the picture.

That’s why Wizards coach Eddie Jordan happily points to the play of second-year forward Jared Jeffries as a bright spot in what otherwise has been a dismal 25 games.

“I’m starting to get happy with the way Jared’s playing,” Jordan said of Jeffries, named the team’s starting power forward four games ago. “You can see that he’s getting more comfortable out there. He’s starting to make plays off the dribble, he’s helping his teammates more, and he’s been much more active defensively. I’m pleased with his progress.”

So is Jeffries, especially considering the news he received one year ago today: his rookie season was finished because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

Today, though, Jeffries is playing ahead of both Christian Laettner and Kwame Brown.

Jeffries is beginning to make strides on the floor. He reached double figures in rebounding in the last three games, including his first double-double (11 points, 11 rebounds) of the season against Utah.

And in the Wizards’ most recent game — a 97-87 loss at New Jersey on Saturday — Jeffries fell one point (nine points, 12 rebounds) shy of achieving the feat in back-to-back games.

Jordan said Jeffries will remain in the starting lineup in the future, which is somewhat surprising considering former No.1 pick Brown was expected to have a breakout season.

However, Brown said he’s “fine” coming off the bench. Jeffries, on the other hand, wants no part of being a backup.

“I love starting,” said Jeffries, averaging 5.3 points and 4.5 rebounds. “I’ve been a starter all my life and this has always been my goal. I don’t want to be a role player. I want to establish myself in this league and it just makes more sense if I can do it as a starter.”

Last season, Jeffries, the 11th pick overall and the top player on Indiana’s national runner-up to Maryland in 2002, averaged 4.0 points and 2.9 rebounds before tearing his knee 20 games into the season.

But Jeffries approached rehab with the zeal of a seasoned veteran, not that of a 21-year-old rookie.

Rather than take the summer off, Jeffries spent the offseason in Sarasota, Fla., at IMG Academy, rehabbing his knee to ensure he would come back healthy.

Admittedly apprehensive about the injury early on, Jeffries said he finally has gotten over “the mental road block I had to clear” in order to improve, “and now I expect to continue getting better.”

A frail 219 pounds when drafted, Jeffries carries 234 pounds with 5 percent body fat on his 6-foot-11 frame.

Astounded by the results, he purchased a condo in Sarasota so he’ll have somewhere to stay all summer.

“I know I have to get stronger for next season,” Jeffries said.

And what about this one?

“We’re struggling now, but we don’t have all our guys,” said Jeffries, making reference to injured Jerry Stackhouse (knee) and Gilbert Arenas (abdomen). “We all just have to keep working for a goal.”


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