Saturday, July 8, 2006

LAS VEGAS. — After watching the Washington Wizards number one draft choice, Oleksiy Pecherov, in his first few minutes of NBA Summer League play in a game against the Toronto Raptors, it appeared that it wouldn’t be long before someone would cue up the song, “Back in the USSR.”

But in the second half — after being pulled with three fouls in the first 13 minutes of play — Ole II (in deference to the Capitals goalie, the No. 1 Olie in Washington) played as if he can fully expect to hear the tune, “Living in the USA.”

Wizards fans can relax. Ole II has game — seemingly good enough to stay home and contribute at Verizon Center this coming season instead of sending postcards from Europe for another year.

After scoring just four points and pulling down two rebounds in 11 minutes in the first half, Ole II wound up with 15 points and eight rebounds and helped lead the Wizards summer league team from 15 points down to a one-point lead before falling apart at the end and losing 93-85 on Thursday night.

Wizards coach Eddie Jordan liked what he saw.

“He’s competitive,” Jordan said. “He’s not backing away from the physical contact. He shows confidence in his offensive game, so there are a lot of things out there to feel positive about. He got himself in foul trouble, but that is going to happen. I like his shot a lot. I like the way he can score. He has size, he cuts, and he’s a good passer. It is just a matter of him getting experience.”

Ole II said he was a little shaky when he first took the court.

“It was a new situation for me, so I started playing a little nervous,” he said. “I played a little bad. You saw it. But after I got used to the game and the atmosphere, I tried to play my game, and calmed down and played better. We played better in the second half. We were minus 15 and then we came back to tie, but the last minute we did not play right. But it was a good experience for us. After two or three games, I will adapt and be all right.”

Now, he’s no banger. The 7-footer can get muscled out from under the basket with relative ease. But he has at least the notion of rebounding, which counts for something. I think that, like the small toe, there is a rebounding gene that is disappearing with each generation, sort of an evolutionary process.

“If you are a big guy and can jump, you need to make rebounds,” Ole II said. “It is part of my game, so I need to do it.”

Peter John Ramos could take a lesson from Ole II. The Wizards’ 7-3 project can run the court, bob his head and spin this way or that way, but if Wizards fans are hoping that he will be the power presence under the boards the Wizards so desperately need, they need to give that dream up. He plays as if there is a force field keeping him away under the basket. How else would you explain how 6-2 Toronto guard William Avery beat him to the basket for a rebound?

If you need a movie, though, Peter John is Mr. Blockbuster. I flew out to Vegas on the same flight with the team, and watched (from coach, of course) Peter John handing out DVDs to his teammates and coaches sitting in first class. A Bill Russell greatest moments DVD wouldn’t hurt, or even Wes Unseld, for that matter (the latter’s son, Wes Jr., coached the Summer League Wizards on Thursday night).

If you are looking for some help under the basket, second-year player Andray Blatche may be the best option. The 6-11 forward, who won’t turn 20 until next month, worked hard for rebounds, and came away with 12 — five of them offensive — to go with his 15 points and three blocked shots.

“Andray has been very active, getting blocked shots and rebounding,” Jordan said. “That is good activity. He is making himself available to create some opportunities for himself, and he’s made some good passes. Sometime he just has to get under control and let the game come to him instead of forcing things, but that will happen, too.”

The star of the game, though, was the Raptors No. 1 pick — the top selection of the draft — the new Italian Stallion, 7-footer Andrea Barngani, who scored 20 points in 29 minutes. The ball gets in his hands, and it’s up and in, from almost anywhere on the court. This is no Darko. He will be a force in the league before long.

“He is very, very skillful,” Jordan said. “He has a quick first step and he can shoot a [3-pointer] very easily. It’s almost like a layup. When you can shoot a 3 like that, and you’ve got a quick step, you are almost unguardable. He has big-time confidence, you can tell.”

He also was clearly the crowd favorite, which is certainly understandable in Vegas, where there are deep Italian roots, although many of them are buried in holes in the desert.

This was Ole II’s first Vegas experience, and, needless to say, they don’t have any place like this back in Ukraine. He was overwhelmed. But this is a smart kid, and interview-wise, he is NBA-ready.

“It’s a huge city, too many lights, too much commercialism, casinos, it’s incredible,” Ole II said.

Then he caught himself and added, “But I think every city has beautiful places.”

That may be true. But in Vegas, those places are usually followed by the words, “Girls, girls, girls.”

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