New Wizard Oakley hits players running

Veteran signs deal, shows his `presence' in practice

Pro Basketball

October 13, 2002|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - It took all of one practice for forward Charles Oakley to properly introduce himself to the rest of his new Washington Wizards teammates.

During yesterday's three-hour practice, Oakley was responsible for two knockdown fouls, bringing a toughness of mind and body not seen around these parts in quite some time.

"We hadn't had [that] in a year," said Washington coach Doug Collins. "He makes his presence felt."

But Oakley, who signed a one-year deal with the club before practice, is as interested in playing instructor as enforcer at this stage of his career.

"I don't like nonsense around me," said Oakley, 38, who is about to enter his 18th season. "If I see things going on with the players, I'm going to let them know. If management is slipping a little, I'll let them know. I'm here to try to make sure that things are right. I'm not here to try to step on no one. I'm here to try to make things right. We'll play blackjack and hope we get 21. "

Said Collins, who coached Oakley in Collins' first season with the Chicago Bulls in 1986-87: "The thing I love about it was a couple of times, he stopped and went over to Kwame [Brown] and taught him a little bit and did the same with Jared [Jeffries]. When you've got Patrick [Ewing], Michael [Jordan] and Oak, you've got three guys that have that kind of experience. When they talk to their teammates, that kind of experience is invaluable."

Oakley, who signed for the veterans minimum, which is slated for about $1 million this season, becomes the latest addition to what is becoming a star-studded, albeit older, club.

The Wizards added veterans Jerry Stackhouse and Bryon Russell via either trade or free agency last month, as well as signing Ewing, the former New York Knicks center who played 10 seasons with Oakley, as an assistant coach.

But Oakley, who spent last season as an unhappy camper in a second tour of duty with the Bulls, stressed that he's not just interested in being a teacher for the Wizards' frontline kiddie corps, which includes Jeffries, a rookie, and second-year players Brown, Brendan Haywood and Etan Thomas.

"There's a lot of talent here, but I told them I want to play and I didn't just come to sit on the bench," said Oakley, who has averaged 10.0 points and 9.8 rebounds over his career. "They know that. I'm in good shape. There are a lot of guys that are more athletic than me, but in terms of smarts and knowing situations on the court, I feel like I'm one of the best in the game."

Oakley, who said he lost 15 pounds off his 6-foot-9, 245-pound frame in the offseason, impressed Jordan during their workouts at a Chicago gym this summer, and proved to the Wizards' once and presumably future president of basketball operations that he had something to offer.

"[Jordan] saw that my skill level is still up to par, in terms of playing in the league. We talked several times and I said, `We'll work it out,' " Oakley said.

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