In wake of shooting, Wiz kid becoming a man

LAS VEGAS -- Andray Blatche's daydreams have scars.

Sometimes when he gets in and out of a car, he feels a little twinge of remembrance. Before he falls asleep, that September early morning nightmare finds its way into his thoughts. He now finds himself instinctively looking around more, especially over his shoulder in dark hallways and streets.

The Wizards' young prospect is a different player at this version of the Vegas Summer League, but he's also a much different person. Just before training camp started last season, Blatche and teammate Peter Ramos were driving around Washington at 6 a.m. after a night of partying.

At a stop, men in masks and guns approached their luxury SUV in an attempted carjacking. One fired into the vehicle, striking Blatche in the wrist and chest. A few inches off and the bullet would've struck his heart. Instead, it just killed his innocence.

"Stuff like that changes you, it has changed me every day," Blatche said after his Wizards closed summer league with a loss to the Knicks on Thursday. "I have learned from it. I have to act like I'm 75 years old in every situation."

Blatche will never be mistaken for a senior citizen; he's still a youthful-looking 19. But his emotional education has been in rhythm with his basketball maturation. The shooting caused last June's second-round pick to miss all of training camp and he was behind for much of the rest of the way, getting just token time in 29 games, averaging just 2.2 points.

The whole experience matured him, though, and it showed the last 10 days at UNLV. It is easy to see why some compared the 6-foot-11 and wildly athletic Blatche to Kevin Garnett when he was rising to prep stardom in Syracuse, N.Y.

Playing in Vegas alongside another long, lean athlete in Oleksiy Pecherov, the Wizards' first-round draft pick who averaged 12.3 points in five games, Blatche was technically playing power forward. But he's just as comfortable catching the ball on the wing and dribble-driving like a classic swingman.

He's also just as likely to pull down a rebound and bring the ball up the court and start the offense himself. Plus he's been working hard recently on his post moves, which he showed in an array of pump fakes and drop steps in averaging 16 points and 6.2 rebounds in Vegas.

"We'll play him at center, too," said Wizards assistant coach Wes Unseld Jr. "He still needs a lot of work on the defensive end, but he's showing some flashes. He's got a lot of tools and can play a lot of positions, that makes him a real asset for us."

The Wizards are optimistic Blatche can crack their rotation this season, especially after he actually gets to take part in a training camp. There's plenty of rawness left; sometimes he turns the ball over in bunches and loses control of either the ball or his body. But it appears there will be a different Andray Blatche reporting for duty this fall.

"What happened last year could've messed me up, but I used it as a learning experience and took time to watch all the veterans we have," Blatche said. "It is not about me anymore as a player, it is about a team, an organization."

Around Vegas

• The Knicks completed summer league Thursday, finishing 4-1. Nate Robinson, David Lee and Channing Frye (who's time here was limited) all looked like what they are -- legit NBA players -- in pretty much having their way with the competition.

Robinson's 2.88 assist-turnover ratio made him one of the best point guards taking part. Rookie first-rounders Mardy Collins and Renaldo Balkman weren't as polished.
Collins averaged six points and didn't do much special. Balkman was aggressive at times around the basket and ran the floor well, averaging 7.6 points and 4.2 rebounds. But he lost a lot of rebounding battles.

• Some other rookie guards have stolen his thunder here, but Dallas rookie Maurice Ager had a great summer league despite not playing in the last two games. He averaged 20 points and appeared to be one of the best shooters in Vegas, hitting 8 of 17 3-point tries.

• Randy Foye was at it again on Thursday, perhaps cementing his summer league MVP status with another superior performance for the Wolves. In a win over the Mavericks, Foye hit 10 of 18 shots for 28 points with six rebounds and four assists. He is averaging 26.3 points and shooting 54 percent in four games thus far. He and the Wolves wrap the league Friday with a match against the Raptors and No. 1 pick Andrea Bargnani.

• Former Kentucky star Kelenna Azubuike was the Cavs' last cut in training camp last year and he's sure to make a push for someone else's roster again this season. The quick swingman averaged 16.4 points and shot an impressive 58 percent for the Nuggets' summer league entry. Another summer Nugget, Casey Jacobsen, helped his cause for getting back into the NBA by also averaging 16.4 points and 4.2 rebounds.

Brian Windhorst covers the NBA for the Akron Beacon Journal.