Jeffries gets another chance at starting over with Wizards

Coming off knee injury, second-year forward anxious to return to court

Pro Basketball

October 07, 2003|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

CHARLESTON, S.C. - When the Washington Wizards take to the MCI Center court tonight in their NBA exhibition opener against the New York Knicks, local fans will have their first chance to get a look at how far the latest set of repairs on the team has gone.

Similarly, it will be the first chance for Wizards second-year forward Jared Jeffries to see how the repairs to his right knee have gone against live competition.

To say that Jeffries is anxious would be an understatement, but it's a cautious brand of anxiety.

"It [the rehabilitation] is going good," said Jeffries during training camp last weekend. "I just want to take it slow. I want to make sure that I don't have any setbacks. All this summer, things have gone according to plan that they have had me on. So, I just want to stay on the same plan and take things slow."

Jeffries, who led Indiana to the NCAA championship game against Maryland before leaving the Hoosiers to come to the NBA after his sophomore season, had an up-and-down rookie year with the Wizards, who selected him 11th overall in last year's draft.

Jeffries averaged 4.0 points and 2.9 rebounds in 20 games, including a career-high 14 points and eight rebounds in a Nov. 12 game against Seattle. Former coach Doug Collins spoke glowingly of Jeffries' versatility and his tenacity on the boards.

However, Jeffries fell out of favor with Collins after his first NBA start, back home in Indiana against the Pacers, and his minutes tailed off dramatically.

Jeffries, in effect, became one of the first casualties of the decision of Collins and Michael Jordan, the team's de facto general manager, to bench younger players in favor of veterans, but he took it in stride.

"I think that every rookie goes through that, especially when you're part of a team that has playoff potential," Jeffries said. "You'll go through some ups and downs and I knew that coming into the season. That didn't make it easier, but it's the same situation that all players go through."

The reduction in minutes came just before Jeffries tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee at a practice in Dallas just before Christmas, forcing him out of the final 54 games.

"I've never missed games for anything," Jeffries said. "I had sprained my ankle, and maybe missed a game for that. But other than that, I've been in every game, and played and practiced, so it was definitely different for me to be injured."

Jeffries did not go to Boston to play with other young Wizards in the summer league, but has been rehabbing and working out relentlessly all summer, shedding the knee brace and sleeve in August.

During the week here, Jeffries, 6 feet 11, went hard, participating in most workouts, drills and scrimmages with the toughest part coming as he regains the trust he had in his body.

"It's a matter of getting confidence back, because you get used to doing certain things with your leg," Jeffries said. "Every time you make a move and your leg feels good, you gain more and more confidence as far as how to move."

New coach Eddie Jordan has kept a cautious eye on Jeffries, saying his participation tonight will be a game time decision.

When he is ready to play, however, Eddie Jordan intends to use Jeffries extensively at the small forward slot, where his 50 percent three-point shooting, albeit with only six shots, can be an advantage, as well as his size.

Jeffries could also see time at power forward, where he could challenge Kwame Brown for playing time.

"You always want to be part of something," Jeffries said. "You never want to go through a situation ... even last year when they were bringing me along slowly, that's not a really good feeling, because you want to feel used, you want to feel needed. That always gives you a lot of confidence when the coach talks about you being a part of something.

"I'm looking forward to it [playing small forward] because I can guard most threes that might have a hard time guarding me, especially because of my size. I feel that I can defend as well as anybody on the team."

Wizards tonight

Opponent: New York Knicks in preseason opener

Site: MCI Center, Washington

Time: 7

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