- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 8, 2008

When Antawn Jamison was a young player right out of college, he turned to the veteran role models on his team.

“Terry Cummings, John Starks, Mookie Blaylock,” the Washington Wizards captain said, listing his teammates with the Golden State Warriors. “They took me right under their wing and immediately started showing me all the things I needed to do to become a professional. Lifting weights, coming in at 3 for a game that starts at 7:30.

“You might not even get in the game, but you did it because you believed what they were doing was the right way to be a professional.”

That’s why Jamison yesterday disbanded the group of lockers in the far end of the team’s locker room formerly occupied by rookies Nick Young and Dominic McGuire and third-year player Andray Blatche.

Young (22), McGuire (22) and Blatche (21) used to huddle around center Brendan Haywood. Jamison, a 31-year-old in his 10th season, knows that the rookies — getting more playing time because of injuries — need to mature quickly this season.

Tired of a lack of focus before games, Jamison shuffled the locker room in an effort to help the rookies learn quicker.

Young’s stall is now next to Caron Butler’s, McGuire is beside Jamison and Blatche is on the other side of the room next to Haywood.

“I recall when I first came into the league it was about being surrounded by professionals and learning how to be a professional,” Jamison said. “So far we are not satisfied with the growth of that. We are just going to try something different because this is a veteran team.

“It’s not a young team where you can just go out there and play ball. You have to do it a certain way both on the court and off the court. And right now as a group we think there are too many distractions with the young guys. They get in their little corner, and everybody recognizes it. It’s nothing bad. Is it affecting the way they are playing? We’re going to see.”

The Wizards (17-15) play host to the Houston Rockets (17-17) tonight.

Injuries to Gilbert Arenas (knee surgery) and Etan Thomas (heart surgery) have disrupted coach Eddie Jordan’s rotation. By moving Antonio Daniels into the starting lineup in place of Arenas, the Wizards don’t have a true point guard off the bench.

Now the key reserves are the improved Roger Mason and Darius Songaila, who is still trying to find his role with the team after signing a five-year, $23 million deal in the summer of 2006.

Jordan doesn’t expect the younger players to be dominant off the bench, but he does want effort and energy from them. He recently said he hasn’t seen much of either.

“The bench has to get better,” Jordan said. “Our last two games, I’m not pleased with our intensity, our concentration level, especially from our younger guys. Roger has been pretty solid. Darius, we’ve been waiting for him to get some more lively legs, and [Sunday] was a good sign, but the rest of our bench — our younger guys — they have to get better.”

Young began the season playing well on offense. However, he struggled when Jordan inserted him in the starting lineup for two games and has since returned to the bench.

Blatche has been inconsistent, and McGuire, who has had the most limited role of the three, has seen the least consistency in his playing time.

Jordan cited the effort the Detroit Pistons received from the bench in their 106-93 win over the Wizards last week. Detroit’s bench — also filled with young players — outscored Washington’s 33-8. While Jordan did not blame the loss on the bench, he expects it to play with as much energy or more than the starters.

That message seemed to get through to Young after Sunday’s win over Seattle, when Jamison announced the locker room shuffle.

“We have to be like Detroit,” Young said. “Their bench came out with a lot of energy, and they were fired up. And we’ve got to be the same way.”

So what does he think about the new seating arrangement?

“When Antawn does something, you know he’s doing it for a good reason,” Young said.

Note — Rookie Oleksiy Pecherov announced himself ready to play for the first time following yesterday’s workout at Verizon Center and said he likely would be in uniform for tonight’s game against Houston. “I am ready to try,” Pecherov said. “We will see.”

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