- 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 University of Nevada center JaVale McGee with the 18th selection.

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. The player, who boasts a 7-foot-6 wingspan, is viewed as a raw prospect but one with great potential.

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

McGee, who last season averaged 14.1 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.8 blocks for Nevada, impressed Grunfeld and his staff with his athleticism and shot-blocking.

When asked to name his strengths, McGee said he takes pride in swatting shots.

“It would definitely be my shot-blocking,” he said via teleconference minutes after the Wizards drafted him. “If I was a video game, my shot-blocking would be a 90.”

Although McGee, 20, didn’t work out for the Wizards this month because of scheduling conflicts, he expected Washington to use its first-round pick on him.

“I knew they were going to pick me if I was there,” said McGee, whose mother, Pamela, was an All-American for USC and played and coached in the WNBA. “They were constantly talking to me … constantly talking to my agent. So I knew they’d take me.

“It was a lot of excitement,” he added. “I got a text [message from Wizards vice president of player personnel Milt Newton] 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.”

Just before the Wizards selected McGee, Toronto drafted Georgetown center Roy Hibbert 17th overall. Grunfeld said he would have considered drafting the former Hoyas center had he still been on the board. But the Wizards - who Grunfeld said 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.

McGee gives the Wizards a fifth young player to develop and four players 21 or younger. Forward/center Andray Blatche is entering his fourth season but is only 21. And guard Nick Young and forwards Dominic McGuire and Oleksiy Pecherov all are entering their second seasons.

The Wizards already have two true centers in Brendan Haywood, who last season averaged 10.6 points and 7.2 rebounds, and Etan Thomas, who missed the entire 2007-08 season while recovering from surgery to repair a leaky aortic valve. With Thomas out, Blatche served as backup center, averaging 7.5 points and 5.2 rebounds.

But McGee’s potential was too great to pass up, Grunfeld said.

“Basketball is a big man’s game, and it’s hard to get a 7-footer with a lot of athleticism and the ability to run the floor and with a 7-6 wingspan,” he added.

McGee expects to go through a learning period while having to fight for minutes this coming season.

“I’m pretty prepared,” he said. “My senior year of high school, I came [to Nevada] thinking I was going to start, but I didn’t. So I’m used to humbling experiences. … I definitely wanted this. Just the chance to play with Gilbert Arenas and Caron Butler and all those guys. Definitely wanted this.”

McGee will fly to the District on Friday but won’t be introduced at an official news conference until early next week.

With the 47th pick of the draft, the Wizards selected Kansas State redshirt freshman small forward Bill Walker, then turned around and traded him to the Boston Celtics for cash considerations.

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