- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 27, 2008

On the eve of training camp, the Washington Wizards held media day Friday at Verizon Center, and amid the discussions of goals for the coming season, team captain Antawn Jamison sent a message to the team’s younger players.

With franchise player Gilbert Arenas - who in June signed a six-year, $111 million contract - sidelined until at least December while recovering from a third knee surgery in the last 17 months, it’s time to grow up.

The Wizards’ veterans can no longer carry the team exclusively. Younger players can’t use learning on the fly as an crutch. Goofing around at inappropriate times must stop.

So when the Wizards begin training camp today at Virginia Commonwealth University, Jamison knows what to look for in Andray Blatche, Nick Young and Dominic McGuire.

“Growth in our young guys,” the 11th-year veteran said. “For [veterans Antonio Daniels], Caron [Butler], DeShawn [Stevenson], Brendan [Haywood], Etan [Thomas], myself, we’ve been there before. We know what it takes to be serious about our jobs and when it’s time to joke. But I think our young fellas, we had to baby-sit a little too much last year. When I come back to that bench, don’t be laughing about the last play. Tell me what’s going on. Help your teammates. … I welcome them bringing laughter into the locker room, but on this practice court and during games, it’s time to be serious.”

Jamison, who last season averaged 20.1 points and 10.2 rebounds, placed the greatest need for growth on the shoulders of Blatche, a fourth-year forward/center.

“My message to Andray is: ‘You want to be treated like a veteran, you’re ready for the task, well you need to show it.’” Jamison said. “We need him to be consistent. … We need Andray this year more than we need anybody. We need him to bring energy night in and night out. And I’m not talking about four out of five games. Every night. There’s no reason Andray shouldn’t be averaging 14, 15 points game.”

Butler agreed.

“He has been that X-factor,” the two-time All-Star said. “We just need him to be that X-factor on a consistent basis. And I think that this year he gets it. I’ve seen him in pickup games and he looks strong - you can tell he’s taken care of his body and that he seems serious about his craft.”

Blatche said he’s ready to be the extra weapon the Wizards need. He added 10 pounds to his 6-foot-11, 258-pound frame but remains quick and explosive.

Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said earlier this week he wants to challenge Blatche to become a defensive stopper. Jordan envisions Blatche defending bigger small forwards like Houston’s Tracy McGrady and Cleveland’s LeBron James.

“I’m ready to go hard and prove myself,” Blatche said. “Now that I’ve got a little more weight on me and I’m stronger, I’m more confident and feel like I can play either position. Last year I wasn’t really studying other players’ tendencies, seeing what they like to do, but in talking to [Haywood], I’m starting to learn that. And knowing that now, I think I can be a big help for our team.”

Like Blatche, Young and McGuire have trained hard this summer. Young, a second-year guard, said he aims to improve his ball-handling, decision making and defensive efforts. McGuire, a second-year small forward, has tried to sharpen his midrange jumper to round out his offensive skills.

The Wizards brought in veterans DerMarr Johnson and Linton Johnson in hopes of discovering a reliable small forward to spell Butler. But the additional competition doesn’t concern McGuire.

“I’m looking forward to the competition,” he said. “Always welcome a challenge.”

The Wizards also will look to young players like point guard Dee Brown, shooting guard Juan Dixon and forward Oleksiy Pecherov to prove their worth this training camp.

Brown - acquired via trade from Utah - was expected to add depth at point guard to relieve Arenas and Antonio Daniels. With Arenas out, his minutes should increase. But that doesn’t affect how Brown will approach the game.

“Every day your role has to be that you’re ready to play,” he said. “Of course Gilbert is one of the best in the league, and I was so grateful to come into this situation, but you never know when you’re going to be called.”

Arenas didn’t make himself available for interviews. According to a team spokesman, Arenas shunned the media to keep with his rehabilitation schedule. After posing for pictures for the media guide, he hurried off to the trainers room. Arenas and the Wizards were fined $15,000 each.

But on his way out of Verizon Center after completing his work for the morning, Arenas said, “I’m feeling good.”

The team said Arenas will address the media Saturday at camp.

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