- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 28, 2003

The second round of the NBA Draft is a numbers game for those players not good enough to earn the guaranteed contracts meted out to first-rounders.

Take last season, when just seven of 29 second-round picks were on opening day rosters, compared with 24 of 28 first-rounders. Cleveland’s Dajuan Wagner (No.6) was absent because of a kidney condition, and New Jersey’s Nenad Kristic (No.24) spent last season overseas.

But Steve Blake, the 38th pick overall in Thursday’s draft and the second Maryland star taken by Washington in as many seasons, is in a different situation. For one thing, the Wizards don’t have a legitimate point guard signed to a contract. And the guys they have masquerading as such either don’t want to play it (Larry Hughes) or have yet to grasp the nuances of NBA point guard play (Blake’s ex-Terrapins teammate, Juan Dixon).

If the Wizards don’t re-sign Tyronn Lue, they might pursue free agents like Orlando’s Darrell Armstrong or San Antonio’s Speedy Claxton. But that’s down the road. For now, at least, Washington looks like the perfect fit for the 6-foot-3 Blake, a four-year starter at Maryland.

“It’s great,” Blake said. “For a team to pick me that actually needs me and wants me is a dream come true. I have a chance to come in there, and if I play well and earn the time, then I’ll play. It’s a great situation for me.”

This isn’t just idle talk. For anyone who thinks Blake is just a local guy added to the roster to stir interest, think again.

Better yet, listen to one of the guys who decided to pick him.

“Well, certainly we’re going to explore the free agent market,” coach Eddie Jordan said. “We have some room that will be enticing to some free agents out there. But at the same time, we feel Steve has a chance to make it on the roster. We came into the draft with nine roster players. If you add the 10th pick and the 38th pick, then you have some people filling out the roster, and they fill the needs.”

An honorable mention All-American following both his junior and senior seasons, Blake finished fifth on the NCAA’s all-time assists list with 972. And he is the only player in ACC history with at least 1,000 points, 800 assists, 400 rebounds and 200 steals.

Still, Blake says he knew well in advance of the draft that he had not done enough to work his way into the first round, unlike Dixon, whom the Wizards selected with the 17th overall pick last season.

So Blake took his workouts seriously, taking just a few days off following the NCAA tournament to relax and then getting right into a regimen. Even though it did not get him into the first round, his work paid off. On more than one occasion, Blake outperformed players who were expected to be picked ahead of him.

One of those players, according to sources with knowledge of the workouts, was Kansas’ Kirk Hinrich, the first point guard taken in the draft, who went to Chicago with the seventh pick.

“He was very impressive, very impressive,” Jordan said. “Maybe Kirk was a little bit down from traveling, and I think he might have had some flu symptoms, but [Steve] was really impressive against him.

“Really, I like what we’ve got in him,” Jordan continued.

“Steve is an exciting point guard with size, and he can push the ball.”

And he might even push his way onto Washington’s roster, joining Dixon to reunite the backcourt for the 2002 NCAA champions.

“That would be nice,” Blake said.

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