- The Washington Times - Friday, October 5, 2007

RICHMOND — Perhaps it all became clearer to Andray Blatche after his brush with a faux prostitute that resulted in an embarrassing charge of solicitation in early August.

Perhaps in the days that followed, with his contract negotiations hanging in the balance and with teammates offering their unsparing perspective, Blatche came to realize that there was no place to hide, no one to blame but himself.

Perhaps it all crystallized for Blatche during that period, as those in his midst challenged him to reflect on who he was and what he wanted to be in the NBA.

You see, Blatche also had to confront the charges that did not concern the faux prostitute: that he was rudderless, that he loved the NBA lifestyle but not necessarily the game, that he burned all his money in nightclubs and barely knew his way to the weight room, that all he had shown so far in the NBA was the ability to recover from a gunshot wound.

“At first, when I came to the team, I didn’t give it my all,” the third-year forward said yesterday following practice at Siegel Center.

That public admission, of course, is the first step to becoming an essential part of the Wizards.

Ernie Grunfeld, Eddie Jordan and the rest of the staff entrusted with guiding the Wizards to the top of the Eastern Conference this season see signs of maturity in Blatche. They see a more confident player, a more committed one and, hopefully, one who finally accepts the responsibilities of being a professional athlete.

But they have been around the game a long time. They know the maturation process can be an up-and-down ordeal. They know Blatche is still only 21 years old. They know they are only one early morning call away from having to revisit the issue of personal accountability with Blatche.

“I don’t want to get too excited,” Jordan said after watching a transformed Blatche during an intrasquad scrimmage. “He was very, very good. I like his awareness, the way he’s playing the game very hard, and he’s making quick moves. He just has to keep it up.”

The 6-foot-11 Blatche has increased his weight to 260 pounds, a 12-pound addition from his listed weight, and the muscle has been distributed mostly on his upper body.

Blatche is vowing to be the hustle player the Wizards so desperately need.

“It’s up to him,” Grunfeld said. “There’s no question he has an opportunity to be part of the regular rotation.”

That opportunity has expanded because of the unknown physical status of the Poet.

Blatche could earn minutes at center as well as at the two forward positions.

“I have an opportunity, and I am not going to give it up,” Blatche said. “I’m going to bring a lot of energy to the floor, and I’m going to rebound and defend. I want to be the guy who does all the dirty work. I want to do the little things that help us win.”

If the opening days of training camp are an indication, Blatche is winning converts with his renewed sense of purpose. He is running the floor, finishing at the basket and showing a deft shooting touch from the perimeter.

Perhaps the seeds of this transformation were planted in the wee hours of the morning on Thomas Circle NW, where Blatche and a buddy were trolling for painted ladies of the night.

A bout of introspection ensued.

“It was really just being in the wrong spot at the wrong time with the wrong people, and I learned from it,” Blatche said of the “date” that went bad.

For now, he is in right spot at the right time and with the right people.

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