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The Life


August 17, 2002
Kwame still playing catchup
ESPN The Magazine

HONOLULU -- While Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry sat out the final day of Pete Newell's Big Man Camp, Kwame Brown was on the floor, going through every drill, backing down Blazers center Ruben Boumtje Boumtje with authority. It won't dismiss the sentiment born last season that Brown has a bad work ethic and no post game, or that the Wizards would have been better off drafting someone else with the No. 1 pick.

Kwame Brown
Wizards forward Kwame Brown is still at his best facing the basket.
But it's a start.

"Fans have expectations when they hear someone's the No. 1 pick," Brown said. "It's like somebody telling me about Hawaii or seeing it on TV. When I got here, it's not like everybody said it was."

Same goes for Brown, at least based on his work under Newell. While he still steadfastly refuses to lift weights -- "I'm country strong," he joked on the bus back to the hotel -- he was clearly committed to improving his game during the week-long camp that focusses on footwork and offensive fundamentals in one-on-one, two-on-two and three-on-three drills.

"I really liked what he did the last day," said Wizards assistant general manager Rod Higgins, who attended the camp to watch the progress of four Wizards' post players -- Brown, Brendan Haywood, Etan Thomas and Bobby Simmons. "He was aggressive in the post and yet he took his time. He's usually in such a rush he doesn't give the defense a chance to react."

Brown is trying to make up lost time. While the return of Michael Jordan did wonders for the box office and allowed the Wizards to dream of a playoff berth for several months, the shaping of the team to accommodate MJ and a win-now approach put Brown in an impossible situation for his level of experience. The offense was designed to get shots for MJ and Rip Hamilton, meaning the post players had to know how to space the floor or post up and kick it out. Their meager talent and experience made for a thin margin of error. Mistakes couldn't be tolerated. Plays for a rookie couldn't be run, especially one who was most effective facing the basket.

"If Kwame made a mistake, he knew he was coming out," said Haywood, a fellow rookie but four-year player at North Carolina. "If he made two mistakes, he might not get in the game again."

Brown's shortcomings drew national attention, thanks to Jordan's presence. Criticism about his work habits from both His Airness and coach Doug Collins cast Brown as the No. 1 pick who was letting down the most revered player in basketball history. Chandler and Curry, meanwhile, were cruising along with the rest of the Bulls beneath the public radar and had each other's support.

"That helped them a lot," Brown said. "They could feed off each other and they didn't have a lot of pressure."

Brown's stats -- 4.5 points and 3.5 rebounds a game -- were the worst of the three, but his per-minute production was nearly identical with Chandler's. The two matched up several times in camp drills and while Brown was bothered by Chandler's length, his skills and moves were clearly more developed. Camp instructors, in an informal poll, unanimously said that Curry would be their first choice if selecting among the three, but credit that largely to Curry's physical gifts. At 6-foot-11 and 285 pounds with monstrous, soft hands and nimble feet, Curry has the potential to be the Eastern Conference's most dominant big man some day.

Size is why Brown still could struggle until Jordan retires again. He was placed in a group with mostly undersized power forwards and consistently matched up with the lightest of them, Mike Dunleavy Jr. or Chandler. Higgins expects him to battle Thomas for the starting power-forward honors. Judging by the way Thomas posted up Brown the few times they faced each other, the competition doesn't bode well for Brown. His post-up game showed dramatic improvement, but his strength remains facing up and driving. There will be little room for that unless the Wizards' game plan changes dramatically.

Although Collins suggested Brown's summer-league groin injury once again indicated he wasn't in shape, Brown expects he'll be treated differently this season. "I don't think Doug will be like that again," he said. "I think there's going to be a larger margin of error."

If nothing else, Brown has helped this year's rookie forward, Jared Jeffries. The Wizards plan to bring Jeffries along slowly, hoping his confidence isn't shaken the way Brown's was. Brown, meanwhile, keeps in mind that Tracy McGrady was accused of being lazy early in his career and Kevin Garnett is still being criticized for not having an effective post game.

"My very first day with the Wizards I was shown an inside pivot," Brown said. "I didn't even know what that was. No high school player can be ready for what we face. We've never been challenged. But I'll get there. I'm learning a lot."

AND ONES: Nothing is official, but expect Michael Jordan to play again this season. He's going light on his workouts, a source said, because he believes last summer's intensive training to get in shape prompted him to break down last season ... Mike Dunleavy Jr. banged knees with Tayshaun Prince and left midway through the final workout but the injury is not considered serious. Before the injury, Dunleavy Jr. made the biggest impression with his passing and his ball-hawking, at one point snatching the ball from Prince's grasp before he could start his move ... Nuggets rookie Nene Hilario sat out the final two days of the camp with a strained groin and is headed to Denver for treatment, putting into question his availability for Brazil's World Championships squad ... The Timberwolves made a qualifying offer on Friday of six years, $35 million to Ricky Davis ... Pete Newell sounded skeptical about continuing the pro division of his Big Man Camp after a banquet celebrating the camp's 25th anniversary and his 87th birthday. The NBA wants to prohibit team personnel from participating for fear of tampering or some sort of competitive advantage being gained. Their concerns would be allayed by a single visit to the camp, but to date, no NBA official ever has attended. One compromise that will be presented to assistant commissioner Russ Granik is to allow personnel below the head coach and GM level to serve as instructors. That would eliminate Big Man veterans such as Pistons coach Rick Carlisle and Nuggets GM Kiki Vandeweghe, but several new instructors were brought in this year to groom them in case the proposal is accepted. Former NBA players Frank Brickowski, Jeff Lamp and Alton Lister, along with Pistons assistant and former Laker Tony Brown, were among the first-year instructors.

Ric Bucher covers the NBA for ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at ric.bucher@espnmag.com.



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