- The Washington Times - Monday, October 11, 2004

RICHMOND — Washington Wizards forward Jarvis Hayes, the team’s top pick in the 2003 NBA Draft, knew he had to come to training camp in better condition than he did as a rookie.

Not just because he admittedly hit the infamous rookie wall but also because of the moves the team made during the offseason in acquiring Antawn Jamison via trade and signed veteran free agents Samaki Walker and Anthony Peeler.

“You could see that they were doing things to make the team deeper, that they were adding players who would be able to contribute,” Hayes said. “I think everybody knows that it’s going to be harder to stay on the floor. I think there are more options here now.”

Those options are not limited to small forward, where Hayes will be hard-pressed to match the 29 minutes he averaged last season. One of the prevailing themes at training camp, which closed yesterday at Virginia Commonwealth University, is the depth up and down the roster. Jamison has crowded the field at small forward, where Jerry Stackhouse’s injury last season allowed Hayes and Jared Jeffries to get substantial playing time.

Coach Eddie Jordan already has anointed Walker as the team’s third-string center behind Brendan Haywood and Etan Thomas, and his experience — this will be his ninth season — guarantees Jordan won’t hesitate to play him there more if the younger players make the kind of mental mistakes they’ve committed in the past.

And Peeler’s addition — plus Steve Blake’s return from ankle surgery sometime in November — makes for a crowded backcourt.

From a coaching standpoint, Jordan loves the battle for playing time.

“It’s healthy competition that breeds a good atmosphere,” Jordan said. “The more good players you have working hard gives you a situation where the cream will eventually rise to the top. We have new faces here, guys who have tasted the playoffs and know what it takes to get there. And we have young guys who have come back with a hunger to prove themselves, so it makes for a good environment.

“The bottom line is, you can’t take anything in life or in the NBA for granted.”

One player who certainly won’t is third-year guard Juan Dixon. Undersized at whatever level he’s played, the 6-foot-3 former University of Maryland star once again will find playing time difficult to come by.

The Wizards left him unprotected in the expansion draft, and last season he lost playing time as Blake emerged as the top backup point guard on the roster.

Dixon said he understands that the Wizards left him unprotected because “basketball is a business.” As for the competition he’ll face this season, he’s not exactly running from it.

“I want it,” Dixon said. “I’m going to do whatever it takes to get better. If that means doing extra sprints or getting extra shots up, I’m going to go back to the formula that worked for me at Maryland. I’ll be getting in the gym every night if I’m in Maryland or D.C. and coming into MCI Center late at night to work on my game. That’s something I’ve done for the last two years.”

And it’s just the type of talk Jordan wants to hear from his players.

Notes — The Wizards flew yesterday to Muncie, Ind., where they will open the preseason tonight against the Indiana Pacers. Tomorrow they will face the Philadelphia 76ers in Durham, N.C. On Thursday, they’ll play at Charlotte before returning home for their first MCI Center practice Friday or Saturday. … Thomas is not making the trip to Indiana because of a strained abdomen. He will be re-evaluated today.

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