- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 14, 2006

Jarvis Hayes listened to the reporter, knowing where the conversation was headed. So rather than let him finish, Hayes politely nodded and finished the sentence.

“Wake Forest,” Hayes interjected.

On Oct. 13 of last year, Hayes — playing in his second organized game in more than eight months — scored 18 points in the first half of a preseason matchup with the San Antonio Spurs on Tobacco Road. But later that night, Hayes was horrified at the aftermath.

His right knee, which forced him to miss a third of the 2004-05 season after he fractured his kneecap, swelled through the night. Hayes, named the starting off guard by Wizards coach Eddie Jordan, missed the remainder of the preseason but didn’t let the injury discourage him.

That didn’t happen until a game at Los Angeles on Dec. 16, when he again fractured the kneecap. Hayes’ season officially ended when he had surgery Valentine’s Day.

So the normal aches and pains Hayes felt after the Wizards’ first two preseason games, in which he combined for 25 points in 38 minutes, were something to smile about.

“This is completely different,” said Hayes, who had to lose 20 pounds — and months of rust — to get back in playing shape. “In the Winston-Salem game I still could move like everything was fine, but I couldn’t make the quick cut or use the burst of speed. I couldn’t stop on a dime, and that’s what gave me problems.

“But I feel like I’ve got my bounce back,” Hayes continued, the smile growing broader. “I feel like I’m jumping and moving better now with the rehab and the work I did just to strengthen it. I think we did right this time. The surgery was probably the best thing I could do.”

If the 6-foot-8, 225-pound Hayes indeed is healthy, it almost as if the Wizards are adding another talented player to the roster. In free agency, they brought in Darius Songaila and DeShawn Stevenson — moves that should produce substantially more depth.

In his rookie season, Hayes (the 10th overall pick in the 2003 draft) averaged 9.6 points while making 42 starts and playing 29.2 minutes a game. In a rookie class that feared LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, Hayes was viewed as one of the steals in the draft at the time.

But his knee has limited his production. He has missed 89 games since, a trend the Wizards don’t want to see continue.

“This time last year he was experiencing some sharp pains, and we had to monitor it very closely,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said. “Here it’s just the normal tendinitis. He feels good after a hard day of practice. Last year we were more cautious and had to take a lot of days off with him. The team is really rooting for him.”

After the surgery, Hayes’ weight reached a high of 245 in late spring. But unlike the year before, when he simply rested the knee and hoped for the best, the surgery accelerated his return to the gym and permitted him to begin rehab much sooner.

Hayes came to training camp in Richmond confident he was further along than in 2005. His teammates certainly welcomed his return.

“He is a catch and shoot guy that will help my assists go up,” said Gilbert Arenas, envisioning driving to the basket and then kicking the ball out to a wide-open Hayes. “It’s good to have another threat out there. Nobody really knows what he can do, but he can shoot lights out.”

Hayes doesn’t know whether he will start opposite Arenas this season. While he would like that, he’s not obsessing over it.

“I’ve got some big goals,” Hayes said. “I want the team to do well, and I want to win two awards, comeback player of the year and top sixth man. If I do that, the team is going to benefit from it.”

Note — The Wizards released 7-foot-3 center Peter John Ramos yesterday, reducing their roster to 17 players. Ramos, selected with the 32nd pick in the 2004 draft, appeared in just six games for the Wizards over the last two seasons.

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