- The Washington Times - Friday, December 9, 2011

The team looks different, clad in their brand new red, white and blue uniforms. The season will be different, with a lockout-shortened 66-game schedule as opposed to 82.

There are new faces as well — rookies Jan Vesely, Chris Singleton, and Shelvin Mack. There’s even one returning face, Roger Mason Jr., who played with the team from 2006-08.

But the question remains: Will the Wizards actually be different this season? For a team that finished 23-59 last season, the coaches, players and the fans certainly hope so.

“Right now we’re going to have three or four or five guys that didn’t play here last year,” said Wizards head coach Flip Saunders. “When you look at turnover, 30 percent of your team, that’s still a lot of new faces. But I think that we’re young, athletic. We have the ability to be very versatile.”

The first step in officially getting the season underway began Friday as the Wizards kicked off training camp. The coach was happy about how it turned out.

“It was pretty good overall,” Saunders said. “We’ll know more tomorrow, how sore they are in the morning and how they’re able to bounce back, as far as tomorrow night’s practice.”

The team will undergo two-a-days every day until the preseason opener Dec. 16 against the Philadelphia 76ers. Under the most scrutiny, and the most pressure, is second-year point guard John Wall.

“It’s like night and day watching him out there on the floor and the things he can do now that he wasn’t able to do last year,” Saunders said of Wall. “The thing is, when you’re the face of the franchise, there’s always high expectations. But I think that’s something he relishes; the opportunity to take on that challenge.”

Wall says he’s ready to begin making the leap from rookie to leader and from a guard learning to play in the NBA to earning that elite point-guard moniker.

But it’s not just about his personal development, it’s about wins.

“I got goals set for myself, but I don’t like talking about it. I’m focusing on team goals,” Wall said. “I kind of know what it takes to win games. I know what it takes to lead a team. I know what it takes to control things.

“I think it’s going to be a little easier, but it’s still going to be tough going against top point guards every night and trying to lead a young team.

The 21-year-old spent much of his offseason studying film of some of the league’s top point guards, and knows what it will take to have his name mentioned along with the likes of Deron Williams, Chris Paul and Derrick Rose.

“All the elite point guards in the league right now, they all are winners,” Wall said.”They care about your stats here or there, but if you’re winning games and take your teams and [they’re] considered championship kind of teams, that’s what it’s all about.”

Center JaVale McGee said the focus of this year’s camp is hard work and defense.

“All the young guys are really motivated to play and extremely hungry so we should do pretty good, especially the hard work part of it,” McGee said.

As Day 1 of training camp came to a close, the players gathered in a circle at center court. Saunders grabbed a hard hat and handed it to the player he said worked he the hardest that day. He presented it to Wall.

“You can keep this, or you can give to someone else if you think they worked harder,” Saunders said to Wall.

Wall kept the hat.



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