Monday, July 9, 2007

After a recent practice at Verizon Center, Washington Wizards director of player personnel Harvey Grant joked with Oleksiy Pecherov.

“Man, this guy has some size, but I don’t know if he likes to bang,” said Grant, who played 11 years in the NBA. “We’ll see how he does when he gets out there this year. We’ll see.”

Interestingly enough, Grant said this while Pecherov had him backed into a corner of the Wizards’ practice facility, boxing him out for an imaginary rebound that never came.

“He will see. He will see what I can do,” said Pecherov, a 6-foot-11 forward from Ukraine.

With all due respect to 27-year-old Spanish point guard Juan Carlos Navarro, it is Pecherov, the first international player selected by Washington in the first round (No. 18 in 2006) whom Wizards fans are most interested in seeing. Participating in his second camp for rookies and free agents — he did so last year and played summer league for the Wizards — Pecherov now is a bigger, better version of the player president Ernie Grunfeld labeled a “steal” not long after he was drafted.

Listed at 225 pounds when he was selected, Pecherov has since bulked up to 235 pounds according to team officials.

“I did a lot of lifting this season,” the 21-year-old Pecherov said. “I know I have to be stronger to play NBA. Everything is better here now. I want to make sure that I do everything that I can to help Washington.”

That included arriving at Verizon Center several weeks ago to work out alongside Caron Butler. Butler and Pecherov both made sure they didn’t leave the practice court until they made 500 shots.

“He has a great work ethic,” Butler said last month after the two finished a marathon shooting session. “I know he’s going to help us this season.”

Pecherov, who has been nursing a groin injury for the last week, was a member of the Wizards’ 2006 summer league team that went 0-6 in Las Vegas. He averaged 12.6 points on 46.2 percent shooting and 7.6 rebounds last summer.

But when the summer ended, Pecherov knew he would have to pack his bags to head back to Europe, where he would continue to work on his game with his team, BC Kyiv.

In his last game overseas Pecherov finished with 20 points on 7-for-10 shooting, including hitting all three of his 3-pointers before his team was eliminated in the semifinals of the Ukrainian Superleague playoffs.

“It is my dream to play in the NBA,” said Pecherov, who was visited often overseas last season by team scouts. “Some Europeans don’t want to play here; I’ve always wanted to play in the NBA. I can’t wait.”

While the groin injury may have slowed Pecherov’s progress temporarily, Wizards coach Eddie Jordan doesn’t foresee it as being a problem.

“We have a good idea of what we’re getting from him,” Jordan said. “He works very hard; he’s worked hard all year. I know it’s the summer league, but he’s a guy that we know is going to try and go out and play as hard as he can.”

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