- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 14, 2005

Brendan Haywood has accepted the responsibility of being an NBA player.

Are you taking notes, Kwame Brown?

Haywood has made himself a legitimate center in his fourth season in the NBA.

This is someone whose inconsistent activity level used to frustrate Doug Collins and challenged the patience of Eddie Jordan last season. This is someone who, as a collegian at North Carolina, used to be serenaded to Cameron-induced chants of ?Brenda? because of a perceived lack of toughness.

Through all the ups and downs, Haywood made a commitment to be something more than another 7-footer taking up space on an NBA bench. You only had to watch his return to the lineup against the Bulls to see his evolution as a player.

In the team’s biggest game of the season — a game fraught with playoff implications — Haywood finished with four blocks and probably an equal number of alterations, and his aura or being or body odor led to the quick meltdown of Tyson Chandler.

Haywood blocked Chandler’s only field goal attempt in the first quarter, and soon Chandler was banished to the locker room after massaging Haywood’s throat before stepping on his chest.

In the second quarter, when the Wizards endured a hideous stretch on offense, Haywood minimized the damage with his defensive presence.

It is Haywood who often fixes the team’s matador-like approach to defense.

The Wizards are probably never going to be a great defensive team — it is just not in the psyche of their leaders — but their lack of resolve there was glaring during the absence of Haywood.

Jordan has preached the necessity of defense so much this season that he probably has taken to preaching it in his sleep, if only in the faint hope that if he says the d-word enough times, it eventually may reach the young ears of a player or two.

As the Wizards succumbed to a five-game losing streak with Haywood on the mend, certain points of games resembled a glorified layup drill for the opposition.

Haywood is not destined to be an NBA All-Star. His hands are made of stone, which is why he never will be a beast on the glass. You do not teach hands, and the hands of Haywood sometimes seem to have been bequeathed to him from Jahidi White.

But that is hardly the point. Most NBA players have deficiencies. A coach learns to live with them, so long as a player is busting a gut to maximize his positives.

Haywood has developed a turnaround jumper this season, and he embraces his role as a shot-blocker. His bouts of inactivity — the games in which a pigeon could roost on his shoulder and not be disturbed — occur with far less frequency.

Haywood always has responded well to messages sent via his backside. A benching might prompt a player-coach summit at the urging of the player, and Haywood would be told anew that 7-foot statues look best in the museums and parks of the city.

One sequence near the basket revealed the Haywood of today, with Othella Harrington pump-faking about 850 times, and Haywood still planting the logo of the ball on the forehead of Harrington.

Haywood reflects the resiliency of the Wizards. He refused to stay in the box that was handed to him as the 20th overall pick of the 2001 NBA Draft: too soft, an underachiever, with no discernible skills on offense. He has persevered through the rough patches. He aspired to be a viable part of the team, and now his viability has contributed to the franchise’s first playoff berth in eight years.

His season, like the team’s, has been an accumulation of hard knocks, from the season-opening suspension to the midgame tiff with Brown in Los Angeles to the broken thumb.

A tough break is hardly unusual in the NBA. The test is how a player or team responds to it.

We saw the convincing response of the player and team on the playoff berth-securing night of the franchise.

Haywood is more than his numbers.

He has a presence, and it is one the defense-allergic Wizards desperately need.

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