Jan Vesely missed the first seven games of the Wizards’ season rehabilitating from a hip injury. But under new coach Randy Wittman, the 6-foot-11 rookie forward now finds himself in Washington’s starting lineup, replacing the injured and embattled Andray Blatche.
Vesely appreciates the praise he’s getting from Wittman, and feels he’s up to the challenge.
“It’s a huge experience,” Vesely said after the Wizards’ 102-99 win in Charlotte on Saturday. “I just try to play hard every time, if I come from the bench or starting first lineup. I try to do my best every game. I think I did well. I will continue to play hard and try to help the team.”
Wittman made the change Friday night against the Houston Rockets, with Blatche nursing a sore shoulder, but Blatche also strained his calf Saturday in Charlotte and could be out for three to five weeks.
“Me throwing [Vesely] in there against [Luis] Scola probably wasn’t the nicest thing for me to do,” Wittman joked, “but this is a kid that can handle something like that.
“He’s got a very good mind, a strong mind. He’s going to file that away. We’re done playing Houston this year, but I’m sure when he faces Scola again, he’s going to understand what he has to do differently. This is just a learning process for him.”
Vesely had a rough outing against Scola, scoring five points in the first half and none in the second. Scola, a 31-year-old veteran entering his fifth year in the league, scored 19 points.
“He’s a very, very smart player,” Vesely said of Scola. “He’s a little bit stronger than me, so it was nice experience, and I hope I will get another one with him.”
Vesely wasn’t expecting to find himself in the starting lineup just a quarter of the way into his rookie year, but after spending three seasons playing for Partizan Belgrade in Serbia, Vesely is a bit more polished than a lot of rookie NBA players with just one or two years of college.
“I mean, I was [surprised],” Vesely said of finding himself in the starting lineup. “It is my first year in the NBA, so it was a surprise to me. I’m enjoying it. It’s nothing new to me. It’s just a different world I have to get used to.”
Through 13 games, Vesely is averaging 2.6 points and 2.9 rebounds. Wittman, though, sees a player whose value goes beyond filling up a box score. Vesely is the type of high-energy, maximum-effort player Wittman is looking for in the new style of play he wants to implement.
“Jan is one of our higher basketball IQ people,” Wittman said. “He knows how to play, makes right decisions. Defensively, he’s very aggressive. He can run the floor extremely well.
“He’s made good steps in his progress this year, and we’ve just got to make sure he maintains that. He’s a kid that works hard, very hard, so I think we’ll just continually see him move on.”