- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 4, 2007

RICHMOND — It takes about two hours to drive from the District to Richmond, where the Washington Wizards are holding training camp. However, Tony Massenburg’s route to the campus of Virginia Commonwealth has been anything but short.

At 40, the former Maryland player is by far the oldest on the Wizards roster. It is remarkable just because of his age that Massenburg is in training camp. But it’s even more stunning that the muscular, 6-foot-9, 250-pounder can run at all.

A month and a half after helping the San Antonio Spurs win the NBA championship in 2005, Massenburg, then 38, was in car accident in Anne Arundel County, Md. Massenburg’s ankle was crushed after getting sandwiched between the twisted metal of the wreck and the brake pedal.

Last summer Massenburg toyed with the idea of retiring. He knew that because of his age he would be a risk for any team to consider for a roster spot.

“From a GM’s standpoint I had to look bad,” Massenburg said, reflecting on his status after a year of rehabilitation. “They have to be thinking, ‘He’s 38, he’s had a potential career-ending injury and he’s been away from the game for a full year.’ So no, I wasn’t attractive to anyone.”

Massenburg didn’t play for a second straight season, but his fire and passion to play never waned. So Massenburg, who has been coming back to Verizon Center to work out for the last five summers, spent another year rehabbing.

“I think the extra year off helped me because now I don’t have any pain at all in the ankle, none whatsoever,” said Massenburg, the 43rd pick by the Spurs in 1990. “I don’t have to ice it. I wore a brace for the first year-and-a-half after the injury, but now I don’t even do that.”

With fellow center Etan Thomas’ career now in jeopardy because of a heart irregularity, Massenburg, the most physical big man in camp, has an outside shot at making the team.

Brendan Haywood was expected to battle Thomas for the starting gig. For now, Haywood is the unquestioned starter at the position.

Wizards coach Eddie Jordan has said that if Thomas is unable to continue playing, the Wizards would use Andray Blatche and Darius Songaila as backup centers.

But depending on the circumstances, Massenburg could get a decent look.

“I tip my hat to him,” Jordan said. “He is doing things we want him to do, and that is harder for older players to do. They usually stick with what they’ve done over the years. He’s trying to accommodate us as far as changing philosophy and doing things the way we want him to do. He’s working hard, he’s banging and we need him in camp because we miss that sort of presence from Etan.”

When asked whether he could envision himself playing in the league at 40, forward Antawn Jamison laughed.

“He asked me earlier if I thought I would be in the league nine years from now,” said Jamison, 31. “I was like, ‘I don’t think so, Tony.’ But I commend him. If you look at his body, you would think there is no way he’s 40, so that says a lot. He has put in the work and feels ready to play. And he’s physical. If he’s on the floor, guys won’t just think they can sail down the lane for layups against us.”

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