- The Washington Times - Friday, June 27, 2008

The Washington Wizards used their first-round pick in Thursday night’s NBA draft to bolster their front line, taking Nevada center JaVale McGee 18th.

Scouting reports describe McGee, a 7-foot, 241-pound sophomore, as an athletic big man with long arms, explosive leaping ability and great shot-blocking and rebounding skills.

“It was a lot of excitement,” McGee said. “I got a text that said, ‘You’re coming to work,’ and next they called my name, so it was a lot of excitement, and I just can’t wait to come and start working out.”

McGee, who boasts a 7-foot-6 wingspan, is considered a raw prospect with great potential.

“We think he has a real good upside,” Wizards team president Ernie Grunfeld said. “Perimeter game, a jump-hook that goes both ways, so we’re excited about his abilities to improve.”

Taken just before the Wizards selected McGee was Georgetown center Roy Hibbert — 17th by Toronto and traded to Indiana — whom Grunfeld said he would have considered drafting had he still been on the board.

But the Wizards — who according to Grunfeld tried to trade up in the draft and would have traded down had they not liked what they saw at 18 — had McGee rated higher than 18th on their board and were happy to have landed him.

“I wasn’t surprised,” McGee said. “I knew they were going to pick me if I was there. They were constantly talking to me, constantly talking to my agent. So I knew they’d take me.”

The strategy heading into the draft was to take the best player available because they didn’t have any pressing needs, boasting a roster with a blend of veterans and developing prospects.

McGee, whose mother, Pamela, played in the WNBA in 1998 and 1999, gives the Wizards a fifth young player to develop. Forward/center Andray Blatche is entering his fourth season but is only 21 years old. And guard Nick Young and forwards Dominic McGuire and Oleksiy Pecherov all are entering their second seasons.

This year’s first-round pick was two spots lower than last year’s. The Wizards in 2007 used the 16th pick to select Young out of USC. As a rookie, Young impressed with his athleticism and scoring ability despite seeing limited minutes and averaged 7.5 points in 15.4 minutes a game.

In the second round, the Wizards took McGuire out of Fresno State. McGuire averaged 1.3 points and 2.0 rebounds in 9.9 minutes a game but earned the praise of Wizards officials for his hustle.

Pecherov, whom the Wizards selected 18th in the 2006 draft, continued playing in the Ukraine until last season. With the 48th pick of the 2006 draft, the Wizards selected Vladimir Veremeenko, but he has remained in Russia playing professionally. He could join the Wizards in summer league play in Las Vegas next month.

The Wizards finished fifth in the Eastern Conference with a 43-39 record last season despite having to play 69 games without leading scorer Gilbert Arenas.

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