- The Washington Times - Monday, October 22, 2012

Randy Wittman had planned to ease Trevor Booker back into the Washington Wizards’ lineup, but plans can change. After missing the first four preseason games with a strained left hamstring, Booker made his debut Wednesday against the Toronto Raptors. He came off the bench, played 17 minutes and led the Wizards with 12 points in a 104-101 loss.

In his second game, at Milwaukee on Saturday, Booker was back in the starting lineup. He played 22 minutes and led all scorers with 22 points in a 102-94 win.

“I played him a couple minutes more than I wanted, but he was going too good,” Wittman said. “His energy level is contagious. When you’re playing out there with him, you can look silly if you’re not at the same level. We feed off of that as a group.”

Booker’s energy and work ethic make him a valuable asset for the Wizards, but he has a troubling history of injuries for a player just entering his third season. It’s a trend he hopes to change.

His rookie year, Booker missed the final 10 games of the season with a broken right foot. During the NBA lockout, Booker went to Israel to play for Bnei Hasharon but returned before playing a game after bruising his thigh. Last season, Booker missed the final 15 games with plantar fasciitis in his left foot. This year, he strained his hamstring.

“I’m very happy [to be playing],” Booker said. “It’s always good not to be hurt, and I hate just watching our team. I hate watching, period.”

Just before training camp began, Booker said he was going to “knock on wood” that he’d be able to kick the injury bug, but he’s also taking preventative measures. In addition to daily corrective work with Wizards trainers, Booker also had two platelet-rich plasma treatments in his left foot in New York.

The 24-year old, 6-foot-8 power forward out of Clemson says he’s mentally tougher this year but also knows he has a few things to learn before calling himself a seasoned veteran.

“Some of the younger guys like myself, John [Wall], Kevin [Seraphin], we’ve been in the league going into our third year and we’ve seen some things,” Booker said. “We haven’t seen it all, but we’ve seen some things.”

Booker joked that he doesn’t even mind having another Trevor on the team, calling the trade for Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor a good pickup for a team that needed veterans. What he likes about this year’s Wizards over last year’s team is a stronger defensive presence and better chemistry.

“We’ve got a more experienced group,” Booker said. “So, that’s better off the bat. Some of the older guys can help the younger guys out, so I think that can take us far. We’ve done a good job of playing together and playing the right way.”

With Nene, and Kevin Seraphin still out with injuries, Wittman is glad to have what he called “another big body” on the court and credited a positive momentum swing in the team’s last two games to Booker’s presence.

“I thought he made some strides last year before his injury,” Wittman said. “He needs to be in consistent with the 15-foot jump shot. All our bigs need to continue to do that. He just needs to continue to grow.”

• Carla Peay can be reached at cpeay@washingtontimes.com.

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