Wizards' scrimmage tips off optimism

Rookies Jeffries, Dixon quick to impress Pollin

Pro Basketball

October 09, 2002|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

WILMINGTON, N.C. - Washington Wizards majority owner Abe Pollin flew a group of the team's highest-profile fans and investors here yesterday for a day of golf and sun and basketball.

And while the golf was middling, and the sun played peekaboo for a lot of the day, the basketball, in the form of an intrasquad scrimmage, was impressive enough to get the long-suffering Pollin optimistic.

"Most people, as you know, call me the nutty optimist," said Pollin, who starts his 38th year as majority owner this year. "But when I have lunch with Michael [Jordan] and the coaches and Wes [Unseld, the general manager], and when he [Jordan] tells me he's optimistic and he feels great about the team, he has joined me in his optimism and I feel good about the team."

Based on the scrimmage, there's room too for optimism. The Wizards, roughly divided in half, were on public display for the first time in the preseason, before a crowd of about 5,000, and looked like a team that could give Pollin, who has only one title, a reason for hope.

In particular, the two first-round draft choices, forward Jared Jeffries and guard Juan Dixon, were most notable. Jeffries was impressive in the first half of the scrimmage, going 3-for-7 from the field, with three rebounds - two on the offensive end. Dixon, the former Maryland standout, played well in the second half, hitting three of his four attempts from the field for six points, as well as the lone steal of the half.

"I think we both understood our roles, Juan as the point guard and myself as the forward that does a few things, rebounds, passes the ball and looks for chances to score," said Jeffries, the Wizards' initial first-round pick, taken 11th out of Indiana. "I think we both kind of embraced the role and did a good job."

The crowd came with the hope that Jordan, a native of Wilmington, would play a few minutes. Jordan, who likely will not play in the exhibition opener tomorrow night at MCI Center against Philadelphia, did not play last night.

But Dixon and Jeffries, along with former North Carolina star Jerry Stackhouse, who threw down a thunderous dunk off an alley-oop pass from Dixon in the first half, made up for Jordan's absence.

"They work extremely hard," Stackhouse said. "And I'm not just saying that because they're my guys, but at 8 o'clock in the morning, when we're in there lifting weights, they're in there lifting weights. Jared Jeffries really wants to get better and Juan is the same way. He's a little tiger out there. The future of this franchise, with the moves they made, looks real fine."

Their performance was enough to encourage Pollin, the longest-tenured owner in the league.

"We're going to have tremendous depth," Pollin said. "This is a very, very deep talented team. We have a very good mix of veterans ... who have been around and know how to play and of younger players and young players. We have a mix of all three and that's exactly what we need. If the young players come along, it's going to be a really interesting year."

In a related development, Pollin said he would "absolutely not" support any trade or move that would put the Wizards in danger of going over the salary cap, thus triggering a luxury tax payment.

"I was part of the labor committee that worked hard to get a deal, and I think it's absolutely important from a financial standpoint of having some breaks and some economic sense in this league," Pollin said.

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