- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 10, 2006

No, Andray Blatche is not the sole reason the Washington Wizards allowed forward Jared Jeffries to sign with the New York Knicks this summer.

And contrary to the words of overexcited observers writing on the Internet and elsewhere, the 20-year-old forward is not the second coming of Kevin Garnett, either.

Expectations that Blatche will emerge as a key component of the Wizards’ rotation are premature if perhaps understandable, considering he is coming off a summer in which he put up 38 points and 12 rebounds against Dallas in Long Beach, Calif.

“We think we have a solid 10-guy rotation,” coach Eddie Jordan said before last night’s preseason opener against the Toronto Raptors. “He’s still young [and] possesses some good skills. But he’s got to get more consistent with his play.”

What isn’t often discussed about that game in Long Beach, for example, is that the man Blatche guarded that night, David Noel, posted a Garnett-like game himself, finishing with 26 points, eight rebounds and seven assists.

Still, Blatche, selected with the 49th pick in last year’s draft, remains highly regarded within the Wizards organization. He has remarkable skills for a player of his size, 6-foot-11 and a bulked-up 250 pounds.

But Blatche also remains a player whose impact will be felt later rather than sooner. After all, he averaged just 2.2 points and 1.3 rebounds in 29 games last season.

Blatche, at least publicly, isn’t trying to push the process.

“I definitely want to be in the rotation. I’m trying to come in here and play,” said Blatche, who spent most of his summer in Washington working out with Harvey Grant, the team’s director of player development and an assistant coach. “I’m used to being a guy that always plays, and I’m not used to sitting on the bench. I’m going to do whatever I’ve got to do to play.”

Blatche had some good moments in training camp, his first. But after every practice, Jordan advised onlookers that expectations for Blatche, who missed all of camp last season after being shot in an attempted carjacking, should be tempered.

“He played very well in the summer league, but that doesn’t easily translate,” Jordan said. “We like what he did and how he’s improved physically, mentally and emotionally, but the test is can he get through training camp when the real dogs are out biting at him and how will he react in the preseason against real NBA-caliber players.”

Grant, who played 11 years in the NBA, got the assignment of monitoring Blatche’s progress over the summer. And Grant knows that success for Blatche will not be instantaneous.

“You always have to take it into consideration that he’s only 20 years old,” Grant said. “Guys have been trying to learn this system for three or four years, and they still haven’t picked it up. He’s got to be patient. His time is going to come. It may not be right now, but it’s going to come.”

And when it does?

“He’s going to be a big-time player,” Grant said.

For Blatche, though, just being on the floor is something of a miracle. A bullet fired from a semi-automatic pistol during that carjacking passed through his right wrist and lodged less than an inch from his heart.

More than one doctor said Blatche easily could have died.

“It made me more aware, and it forced me to make wiser decisions,” Blatche said. “I’m really blessed. I mean, for a bullet to go right between two bones in your wrist, that rarely happens. So I’m glad that God has given me a second chance.”

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