- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 30, 2003

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Perhaps no team in the league worked harder this summer than the Washington Wizards at washing away the residue of last season. And with that done, the team now looks to build toward long-term success.

That will be the theme today when the Wizards open training camp. Players with three-years-or-less experience begin two-a-days here at the College of Charleston.

“You have to think that you are good enough to make the playoffs,” said new point guard Gilbert Arenas, who will be one of 14 players present when workouts begin at 10a.m. “At the same time we’ve got a lot of young guys who are going to get better. We’re going to have to keep improving.”

Former coach Doug Collins, fired over the summer and replaced by Eddie Jordan, spent his tenure preaching the importance of cultivating a young nucleus of players. And, at the same time, Collins wanted the Wizards to be a playoff contender, which they were until the last week of the season that ended 37-45.

When the veterans — players with four years experience or more — join the younger players Thursday, the aged Michael Jordan and Charles Oakley will not be part of the mix. And neither will Bryon Russell, another 30-something player, who opted out of the final year of his contract.

As a result, forward Christian Laettner and point guard Chris Whitney will be the only players in camp older than 30 with guaranteed contracts. Of the players expected to make the roster for the upcoming season, nine are 24 or younger.

Collins opened last season with Kwame Brown in the starting lineup instead of Laettner and planned to give major playing time to the team’s first-round pick, forward Jared Jeffries. However, Brown’s poor play early, coupled with Jeffries’ season-ending knee surgery, forced Collins to scuttle the youth movement and rely on the veterans as the playoff race tightened.

This season, president of basketball operations Ernie Grunfeld anticipates more experienced players — Jerry Stackhouse, Larry Hughes, Laettner and Whitney — will be counted on early to get the team off to a good start. However, both he and Eddie Jordan see the younger players having significant roles all season long.

“We want a solid, young nucleus to grow together but at the same time we want to be competitive,” Grunfeld said. “We have some veteran players who have gotten it done in the NBA. And those guys are going to have to lead the way until our young guys grow and mature.”

Jordan, a head coach for the second time in his career, talks excitedly about the team. As a kid growing up in Washington, Jordan dreamed more about playing for the franchise than coaching it.

Although the Wizards are young, Jordan saw his players anxiously arrive at MCI Center for unsupervised practices and workouts this summer. One element Jordan likes about this team is, that despite its youth, he doesn’t feel the need to coddle his players.

“They’ve built their confidence up already,” Jordan said. “We saw it every day over the summer. We aren’t allowed to watch, but they’ve been doing the skill work and playing hard. When you talk to them you can hear the hungriness in their voices and their confidence growing. So I don’t think we’re going to have to do a lot of confidence building.”

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