RICHMOND | While one of the highlights of the first four days of Washington Wizards training camp has been the progress Andray Blatche, Nick Young and Dominic McGuire, the theme for another young player has been making up for lost time.
For forward Oleksiy Pecherov, who sprained his left ankle in June and has spent the summer rehabbing, the going has been slow and rather frustrating.
The 7-foot, 234-pound Pecherov - the Wizards drafted him 18th out of Ukraine in 2006, but he didn’t join the team until last fall - ran last week for the first time since his injury.
“He’s in and out some practices because we want to be cautious with him a little bit,” coach Eddie Jordan said. “He’s trying to feel his way. We think we can get a lot more out of him as preseason goes along. You have to talk to him, but I don’t see it as being difficult so much as it is as just being in the flow of things.”
But getting back into the flow of things has been difficult, said Pecherov, who still has soreness in his ankle. And because he can’t go full speed for extended periods of time, he has become more of an observer than a participant.
“It’s hard when you don’t play basketball for a long time and then you want to play but you can’t because of your ankle,” Pecherov said. “And then you come back and everyone expects you 100 percent running and giving best effort, but you need to get into shape and be back on the same page that you were before. It’s frustrating.”
What makes the slow recovery more frustrating is that Pecherov was off to a strong rookie preseason before breaking his right ankle and missing the first 47 games of the regular season. He spent much of the year working his way back into shape.
The 2007-08 season ended with Pecherov vowing to improve in the summer, but those plans were derailed during a game of one-on-one with Caron Butler late in June.
“For me, this year has been a lot of injuries, starting last year at start of preseason,” said Pecherov, who averaged 11 points and six rebounds playing professionally in France in 2006. “But this time at least it was summer time, so I didn’t miss any games, but still it’s frustrating. I haven’t been so hurt in my life.”
Another factor making minutes hard to come by for Pecherov is that he has two All-Stars ahead of him in Antawn Jamison and Butler, a savvy veteran in Darius Songaila as Jamison’s backup and an improving Blatche, who can spell either starter.
“He’s not getting a lot of minutes because Darius and Andray are the forwards on one team and Antawn and Caron are the forwards on the first team, and then we rotate him in, so he’s missing some rotation minutes right now even in practice,” Jordan said.
When he does see action, Pecherov said he plays tentatively because of his ankle. He said he tries not to think about the ankle or the pain, but without even realizing it, he hesitates before jumping or doesn’t run as hard. And in a competitive camp in which every player goes hard, he’s left behind.
“I need to be tough mentally and not be afraid to run and jump like I did before, but I just think I need some time to do that,” Pecherov said.
Jordan said at times Pecherov has played aggressively in the paint and he still has his 3-point range, but he hasn’t displayed those talents consistently. The Wizards remain confident in him, however.
The knowledge of that confidence is helpful, Pecherov said. And because the first regular-season game is still a month away, he remains hopeful he soon will regain a competitive form.
“I’m starting to feel good, and I have some time until the first game,” he said. “I just need some time. Then hopefully I can come back and get back to playing basketball like I did before.”