In the visitors’ locker room at United Center, Nene sat, as usual, with his feet soaking in ice water. The Wizards had just lost to the Chicago Bulls, and Nene watched as two French-speaking reporters interviewed Kevin Seraphin in his native language, a common occurrence during Washington’s road games.
Seraphin was mediocre in the 87-77 defeat, and Nene expressed concern that the player he calls his little brother keeps things in perspective.
“I was very clear to him [Saturday] about how he played,” Nene said. Against Chicago, Seraphin scored 12 points and had six assists, but he got to the free throw line just once.
“He played much better,” Nene said, comparing Seraphin’s performance against the Bulls to an outing he’d had two games earlier against Cleveland, when Seraphin had just four points, no rebounds, and no trips to the line. After that game, Nene said he had gotten mad at Seraphin and told him to start playing better.
“There are a lot of things he needs to clean up,” Nene said. “He has a lot of bad habits he needs to fix.”
Nene also has also enlisted the help of Emeka Okafor, and together they’re tying to help Seraphin improve on his weaknesses. Nene has told Seraphin to stop bouncing up and down when he’s on defense, rebound better and work on developing a strong post move to the basket.
Okafor agreed with Nene’s assessment.
“Kevin is a very strong, very talented player,” Okafor said. “He needs to just learn how to use his body and know his strength is an asset. He needs to know how to use that strength to be more effective.”
The 6-foot-9 Seraphin, 23, knows as well as anyone he has much to learn. A native of French Guiana, he didn’t start playing basketball until he was 15. Soft-spoken and genial, Seraphin has no problem with how tough coach Randy Wittman is on him and soaks up everything Okafor and Nene say.
“We’re the three centers of the Washington Wizards, so of course we have to be on the same page,” Seraphin said. “We talk all the time. When we switch, the play has to be the same. If I have to sub for Nene, for Mek [Okafor], I have to give the same or more on the court.”
Between studying Nene’s offensive skills and Okafor’s defensive skills, Seraphin says he’s aware of everything he needs to become the kind of player his two mentors want him to be.
During his time on the bench earlier this season, Nene monitored Seraphin’s progress. After Seraphin’s dud of a game in the 87-84 loss to the Cavaliers on Dec. 26, Nene had seen enough.
“Me and Mek [Okafor], after the game we sat down and we had a conversation with Kevin,” Nene said. “I told him the bigs need to be like more together and have better chemistry. He [Seraphin] needs to listen more and talk less. He said, ‘Oh yeah, I’m gonna listen.’ He played much better after that game.”
As Nene watched the French-speaking reporters wrap up their interview, Nene shook his head.
“When he talks too much about himself, he gets a little too comfortable,” Nene said, his broad smile making it clear he was having fun at Seraphin’s expense.
With the tough love of an older brother, Nene joked, “He don’t play well when we talk about him.”