- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 6, 2007

RICHMOND — New assistant Randy Ayers wasn’t the Washington Wizards’ first choice, but the team couldn’t be happier with its decision.

“He’s great; he’s going to be a head coach in this league,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said of Ayers, who coached the Philadelphia 76ers to a 21-31 record during a partial stint during the 2003-04 season. “He should be a head coach right now — although not at my expense. So far he’s done a terrific job in camp. But then again, what do you expect? He learned under one of the best.”

Before taking over the 76ers, Ayers spent the previous six seasons as an assistant under Larry Brown in Philadelphia. As Brown’s top assistant, Ayers helped steer the 76ers to five consecutive playoff appearances, including a trip to the NBA Finals in 2001.

Over the summer it appeared Tom Thibodeaux would be the coach to patch the Washington Wizards’ leaky defense, but the former Houston assistant never signed a contract and declined the job on the day the team prepared to introduce him.

So the Wizards went to the Las Vegas Summer League to interview more prospective assistant coaches and found Ayers.

Ayers is considered around the league as a tough, defensive-minded coach. He spent the last two seasons in Orlando, where he helped the Magic reach the playoffs last season with the seventh-best defensive ranking in the league.

The 51-year-old has received a lot of credit for the role he played in toughening the Magic’s defense. The season before he arrived the Magic allowed almost 102 points a game. In his first season the Magic cut that to 96.0 points. And last season the Magic allowed just 94.0 points a game.

“He’s got great coaching pedigree,” Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld said of Ayers. “He’s learned from some outstanding people and he’s already fit in well. It goes without saying that we wanted to add someone with a strong defensive background, which he has. We looked at some good candidates and we’re happy — very happy — with Randy. Someone of his caliber is extremely important to have on your staff.”

The players appear to have warmed up to him already.

“Coach Ayers is respected around the league,” Wizards forward Antawn Jamison said. “He’s been a head coach before; he’s worked with some great players. Our job as players is to soak up what he has to offer.”

Ayers knows that from a defensive standpoint the Wizards are not defending champion San Antonio, which last season surrendered a league-low 90.1 points a game. And he admits that while he does have a reputation as a defensive-minded coach he’s not here just to do that.

“I’m just here to coach,” said Ayers, who in 1991 while at Ohio State was named national coach of the year by both the Associated Press and Black Coaches Association. “Eddie has done a great job of letting all of us add our input. He has created an environment where you feel completely free to put things on the table.”

But coach, what about the defense?

“That’s a process,” Ayers said. “It’s not something that’s going to be fixed over night. It’s not going to get done in three weeks, five games, whatever. It takes a while to build your team at both ends.”

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