- The Washington Times - Monday, November 29, 2004

TORONTO — Antawn Jamison had heard enough.

During one of his many phone conversations with soon-to-be teammate Brendan Haywood last summer, Jamison told him he was wasting his breath bemoaning his lack of playing time late in games.

“I just told him to stop complaining,” Jamison said. “When you get the opportunity to do it, just go out there and do it.”

Haywood, the Washington Wizards’ starting center, didn’t like being pulled from games in the fourth quarter during the 2003-04 season, a clear sign coaches don’t think a player can be a factor in the deciding moments.

Haywood took that message to heart last summer. He now not only has a five-year, $25million contract that kicks in after the season, but he seemingly has won the confidence of the Wizards’ staff that his presence on the court late in games is integral to the team’s success.

The newfound faith in Haywood was apparent Sunday in the Wizards’ 114-109 overtime win against Toronto. Only Jamison and Larry Hughes — who posted the first triple-double of his career — played more for Washington than Haywood, who was on the court for 45 of a possible 53 minutes.

It’s hard to pull a guy when he’s dominating on the inside. Haywood had his second consecutive double-double with a season-high 22 points and 10 rebounds.

Haywood also played all five minutes in overtime, a decision that proved wise considering he was 3-for-3 from the floor and had a crucial block on Vince Carter to help seal the victory.

Just two days earlier in an overtime loss to Philadelphia, Haywood scored 14 points and pulled down a season-high 14 boards in a game that wasn’t decided until Allen Iverson stole an inbounds pass en route to a game-winning layup.

Last season the Wizards opted to go with Haywood’s backup, Etan Thomas, down the stretch. That didn’t sit too well with Haywood, who played with one eye on coach Eddie Jordan and the other on the court.

“Last year if I made a mistake, that horn was coming, and I knew it was getting blown for me,” Haywood said. “This year I have a chance to play through a mistake or a bad game. I know if I have a bad game or make a mistake I’m not going to get yanked in the second half.”

One reason why Haywood is remaining in games is that the Wizards still are without Thomas because of an abdominal injury. Another is a credit to Haywood, who had the most serious offseason workout regimen of his career. He showed up at training camp with a more sculpted physique, the byproduct of a personal trainer and a professional chef.

“I put myself through it because I realized that I couldn’t give [Jordan] a reason not to play me,” Haywood said. “I had to give him reasons to play me, and that was my motivation every day this summer.”

Assistant coach Mike O’Koren, who is in charge while Jordan mends from a blood clot in his left leg, said Haywood is dramatically improved from last season.

“Brendan has been playing as hard as anyone on our team,” O’Koren said. “He worked so hard this summer. He improved his body, his conditioning and his post moves. It’s a credit to the hard work he’s done in the summer to come back here and play like that.”

And don’t for one minute think Haywood isn’t aware of those who suggest he will slack off because of his new deal.

“I’m not playing with a fear for what is going to be there for my family and for myself,” Haywood said. “At the same time it’s not like I got my contract and I can quit playing. Now that you have your money it’s time to build on that. There are two types of players: the guys who get their contracts and continue to excel in their game and the guy who just settles. I’m the guy who is going to continue to excel because I know I have a long way to go and get better.”

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