Brown's 2nd thoughts positive for Wizards

A disappointment as No. 1 rookie, forward eager for second season

Pro Basketball

October 08, 2002|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

WILMINGTON, N.C. - The world, or at least the basketball portion of it, wants Kwame Brown to be apologetic for his rookie season.

People want Brown, the Washington Wizards' first choice in the 2001 draft and the first overall selection, to declare, as virtually everyone else has, that his first year in the NBA was a bust.

They want the 6-foot-11 forward, who skipped what would have been his freshman year at Florida, to look at his modest numbers (4.5 points, 3.5 rebounds in 14 minutes a game) and acknowledge perhaps college is a better place for him than the pros.

But Brown won't give them the satisfaction.

"I took positives out of the whole year," Brown said. "I needed a year to learn, as everybody does. I'm pretty sure when you started your job, you weren't the best at it. I'm learning. I'm getting better."

Brown has been nursing a sore hamstring through the Wizards' training camp at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, but he has been playing well enough, in the limited times that he has been seen by the media, to fuel speculation he could begin the season as a starter.

"He knows what we want to get done and what we want to get accomplished," Washington coach Doug Collins said last week. "He's much further advanced than he was last year. Last year, all of our eyes were on him to make sure he was doing what we wanted him to do. This year, that hasn't been the case. We're team teaching, and he's a part of that."

More likely, he will be part of the second unit with Michael Jordan, who, theoretically, will draw enough double-teams to give Brown some open jumpers.

No matter how the Wizards use Brown, the notion that he could be a key part of the rotation seemed most unlikely just a few months ago.

Brown started the 2001-2002 season deeply ensconced in Collins' doghouse, getting little playing time and making mistakes in the time that he got.

Collins, who had never coached a player straight out of high school, was frustrated with Brown and yelled consistently at him, which did little for his confidence.

However, as the Wizards' playoff chances narrowed late in the season, Collins, at Jordan's behest, gave Brown more playing time. Though the rookie didn't light the world on fire, he played adequately.

Still, Brown took a couple of steps back after the season, blowing off an appearance that had been arranged by the team and being charged with speeding in his native Georgia.

Brown also looked ragged during the team's minicamp and summer league games in Boston in July, but, according to coaches and his teammates, he has turned things around rapidly during camp with good practices.

Most importantly, he is following one good performance with another, showing consistency.

"I think it's experience more than confidence," said Brown, who has gained 7 pounds of muscle and is nearly 250 pounds. "Confidence is coming along with it, but the more experience I get, the more confidence I get.

"I'm just trying to keep it up, to build on the first practice so I can just keep it going. Who knows? Maybe I can get the starting spot and I can go from there."

With his mentor from last season, Popeye Jones, now playing in Dallas, Brown has had to seek counsel from other sources, and is learning post moves from new assistant coach Patrick Ewing, footwork from new teammate Jerry Stackhouse and poise from rookie Juan Dixon, who has formed a fast friendship with Brown, who won't turn 21 until March.

Perhaps the biggest change in Brown is he appears to have unshackled himself from the burden of being Kwame Brown, the first overall NBA draft pick, and is settling into attempting to be Kwame Brown, second-year NBA player.

"I'm just playing harder than I was last year," Brown said. "The intensity is better and the awareness of where I should be and where I shouldn't be is better. I'm still making mistakes, but a lot of the mental breakdowns that I was having last year are not occurring this year and it's allowing me to focus more on basketball, instead of worrying about what I should be doing."

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