Name changes, but cast remains same for Wizards Team opens camp with 11 from last season's roster

October 02, 1997|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

It's been an NBA off-season that has featured major trades and several coaching changes. But when Washington's basketball team begins training camp tomorrow at Shepherd College in West Virginia, the only major difference will be the name.

The team formerly known as the Bullets will suit up for 1997-98 as the Washington Wizards.

In December, they will have a new place to call home when they move from USAir Arena in suburban Landover into the new MCI Center in downtown Washington.

But the faces will be pretty much the same. The Wizards have 11 players under contract from last year's squad, which made the playoffs for the first time since 1988.

"I don't mind the fact that we're going into the season with pretty much the same team," Juwan Howard said recently. "We achieved a lot last year, and we're going to get a chance to grow even more."

That growth could be bolstered by the fact that Bernie Bickerstaff, whose mid-season hiring made a major difference in the team's playoff run, will get a chance to mold the players during a full training camp. Since the season ended Bickerstaff has hired three new assistant coaches -- Jim Brovelli, Mike Brown and John Outlaw -- all of whom worked with him in Denver.

Bickerstaff says whatever new system he implements will not be overwhelming to the team.

"We just want to keep things simple," Bickerstaff said. "You want things to get to the point where the players don't have to think too much, where they just react."

With a projected starting lineup that will include Rod Strickland, Chris Webber, Juwan Howard and Calbert Cheaney, Bickerstaff knows the type of style he wants to play:

"This type of personnel is conducive to an up-tempo situation," ,, Bickerstaff said. "And again, we want to try to create things off our defense."

With 11 players on the roster pretty much set, the major question going into camp will be who will earn the 12th and final roster spot. Second-round pick God Shammgod signed a contract for the rookie minimum over the summer, but he still has to make the team.

"We have to remember he's just a youngster," Bickerstaff said. "He was a sophomore last year in college. I'm going to try to go into training camp objectively."

While Shammgod could provide quickness as a third point guard, behind Strickland and Chris Whitney, the Wizards still might be in the market over the next few weeks for a veteran player who could provide leadership for the young team.

Pub Date: 10/02/97

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