Rookie Jeffries grows on Wizards with his play

6-10 forward's hard work, talent impress Collins

Pro Basketball

October 05, 2002|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

WILMINGTON, N.C. - For now, call Jared Jeffries the Stealth Rookie.

While the glare of the spotlight during the Washington Wizards' training camp this week has been focused on such well-known targets as Michael Jordan, Jerry Stackhouse and Bryon Russell, Jeffries has been able to elude attention, mainly by keeping his 6-foot-10 head down and focusing on the task.

"That's the great thing about having guys like that on your team," Jeffries said. "It kind of takes some of the attention away from you, and I can get comfortable and do what I have to do, to learn my role on this team and learn from guys who have already proven themselves in the NBA."

There's just one problem with this scenario: Jeffries' play through the first week of camp has been so solid that he is drawing raves from his coach, Doug Collins, which, in turn, brings attention to his game.

"Jared's been that way all along," Collins said yesterday. "If I let you guys come in here at 9 in the morning, he'd be the first one out here shooting. He is a coach's dream in terms of how hard he works, and he's got a lot of talent. And he's getting better every day.

"I think it's fun as a young player, when you see yourself getting better. You can't wait to get out on the practice floor. He's really growing."

Jeffries, the 11th choice overall in June's NBA draft, had a momentary setback during yesterday morning's practice when he landed hard on his right, or shooting, shoulder, after going up for a dunk. Jeffries was found to have a mild shoulder strain and is listed as day-to-day, though he said he expected to be able to participate in the evening workouts, which are closed to the media.

"I don't need any bumps and bruises," Jeffries said. "My feet are already hurting, and I don't need my shoulder to be hurting. But I'll be all right."

Though Jeffries, who left Indiana after his sophomore year, has had to fight for attention with the big-name veterans and fellow rookie Juan Dixon, he has wasted no time making an impression on the coaching staff, in large part because he never stopped working out after his Hoosiers lost to Dixon's Maryland Terps in the NCAA title game.

The week after the Final Four in April, Jeffries was off to Sarasota, Fla., to train with a number of NBA players, including Jamaal Tinsley and Al Harrington of the Indiana Pacers, New Orleans Hornets forward P.J. Brown and Tyronn Lue, his Wizards teammate.

After the draft, Jeffries stood out in the Shaw's Summer League competition in Boston against other rookies, young players and free-agent hopefuls, and he arrived in camp in perhaps the best shape of all the Wizards.

"I really worked hard to get in shape, because I knew how tough it was going to be, talking to the veteran guys," Jeffries said. "My body is in great shape right now."

And so is his game. Jeffries, the Big Ten Player of the Year last season - averaging 15 points a game - has been pounding the offensive glass so well that Collins has identified defensive rebounding as a team weakness to be worked on before the season opener Oct. 30 in Toronto.

In addition, Jeffries has shown an ability to handle the ball. While he will primarily be used at either forward position, he has the skill to help break the press or lead the break if necessary, as well as post up.

With his skill and wisdom beyond his appearance and age, Jeffries is drawing comparisons in camp to Wizards forward Kwame Brown, from whom he might siphon playing time.

Jeffries is actually four months older than Brown, the first overall pick in last year's draft, and while neither completed college, Jeffries has something of an advantage in that he played two years of college basketball in a respected program.

"One of the reasons I came out of college early is because I knew basketball," Jeffries said. "From the time I was young, I've been coached and I've been shown basketball in terms of the fundamentals. I knew, coming into the NBA, that I would have to learn the NBA style of game, but the fundamentals of basketball, I would have that down."

Said Collins: "He's 20, Kwame's 20, but the one difference between them is he's had two years of college basketball. That experience is vital. He played in the Final Four and in the championship game. The fact that he's had a couple years of college basketball coming in here makes it much easier for him than it was for Kwame coming right out of high school."

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