- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 1, 2003

CHARLESTON, S.C. — The way Kwame Brown sees it, things could be a whole lot worse.

This summer’s DUI charge, on the heels of a second disappointing season for the former No.1 overall pick in the NBA Draft by the Washington Wizards, put him in a bad light. But heading into a season in which the focus will be on him like never before, he has a chance to prove his detractors wrong. And all he’s asking for is a chance.

“It was a dumb decision,” Brown says of the August DUI. “I’m a human being, and we all make dumb decisions sometimes. I’m definitely paying my dues for it. It definitely won’t happen again.”

For Brown, who was arrested near his hometown of Brunswick, Ga., the “dumb decision” only compounded his disappointing career on the court. But it could have been worse. The chance to make amends, which began yesterday with the opening of the Wizards’ training camp at the College of Charleston, could have been gone.

Brown knows he could have ended up like Chicago’s Jay Williams, the second pick in the 2002 draft. Williams almost lost his life and will miss all of this season after a motorcycle accident in which he suffered ligament damage to his left knee, nerve damage to the leg and a broken pelvis.

Worse yet, Brown knows he could have snuffed out a life — his or someone else’s.

“I didn’t hurt myself. I’m glad I didn’t,” Brown said. “Looking at it that way, Jay Williams had an unfortunate accident, and he’s learning the hard way. I learned, probably by losing my license or something like that. I’m fortunate to be standing right here.”

The Wizards’ focus, from the front office to his teammates, is to make sure Brown is as comfortable as possible so that, at 21, he might show signs of living up to his draft status.

In two seasons Brown has averaged just 6.2 points and 4.6 rebounds. The Wizards note that his 7.4 points and 5.3 rebounds last season are superior to the numbers put up by Jermaine O’Neal, who also was drafted out of high school and averaged 4.5 points and 3.4 rebounds in his second season with the Portland Trail Blazers.

Certainly, last season took its toll on Brown. Part of the pain was self-induced, and part of it came from playing alongside Michael Jordan in the twilight of his career.

Brown’s relationship with former coach Doug Collins, once his most avid supporter in the organization, tumbled all season, beginning with his removal from the starting lineup early in the season and bottoming out when he cursed Collins while going to the bench. And the pressure of playing alongside Jordan so clearly overwhelmed him that players thousands of miles away knew about it.

“I know his confidence was pretty down the first two years,” said Wizards point guard Gilbert Arenas, who played in Golden State the last two seasons. “But he has a new team and teammates to look up to. We’re just doing everything we can to keep him confident. Coming out of high school, you’re probably not ready for Jordan yet. You’re not ready for what he’s about. I think that shell-shocked him a little bit.”

To that end, new coach Eddie Jordan is attempting to deflect some of the attention away from Brown.

Jordan is more laid back than Collins. He isn’t going to ride Brown heavily but won’t coddle him either. And rather than put Brown on an island as the top pick, Jordan groups his development along with that of other young players.

“Kwame has enough pressure on him, enough high expectations for a young guy,” Jordan said. “Jared [Jeffries] is a key; Brendan [Haywood] is ready for a breakout year. I want to take a little bit of the pressure off of Kwame because the other guys are important, too.

As difficult as it was for Brown last season, he is thankful Michael Jordan drafted him and thankful he had the chance to play alongside him, no matter how intimidating it might have been.

“Michael being here was great for two years — we learned a lot from the guy, and he showed what winning was about,” Brown said. “Now it’s our time to show that we learned something.

“I have to come in prepared and ready and be solid, be ready to wash the taste of the first two years out of my mouth and just be a natural basketball player. This offense is brand new, and it’s oriented toward the forwards. I’m just trying to come in and learn the best that I can. You’ve got to enjoy it. We have a good feeling to play better and have fun. We want to prepare ourselves to win.”

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