Saunders opens Wizards camp
The coach also handed out iPods loaded with a huge play book -- hope the players don't lose 'em -- plus blue T-shirts and baseball caps emblazoned with the slogan "Our Time."
As if that wasn't enough for the Wizards to realize that change had come, they also experienced a Saunders practice: efficient and extremely organized from start to finish.
"He don't play around when he's explaining something," veteran forward Antawn Jamison said. "He expects you to pay attention."
The Wizards took to the court at Virginia Commonwealth University on Tuesday to begin the process of renewal and recovery after last year's injury-ruined 19-63 season that cost coach Eddie Jordan his job before Thanksgiving. Three-time All-Star Gilbert Arenas looked fine on his thrice-repaired left knee -- "He was like the typical Gil that we'd seen before the injury," Jamison said -- leaving the focus on the new coach.
Saunders, according to team president Ernie Grunfeld, will bring "a new type of professionalism" to the Wizards.
It's a type of professionalism that leaves room for entertainment. After arriving in town Monday night, Saunders brought in humor hypnotist John Ivan Palmer to work his behavioral control magic on several members of the organization.
Young was the life of the party, riding a broom as if it were a horse. Arenas found himself unable to unclench a fist, while guard DeShawn Stevenson -- known for his "can't feel my face" gesture when he scores a basket -- said he literally was unable to feel his face.
"It just opened everybody up. Everybody bonded with each other," Stevenson said. "Instead of everybody coming here and sitting in our rooms with nobody talking to each other, we were in a room laughing. It made us close."
Jamison said he had some good laughs but didn't participate himself.
"I wish I was hypnotized last year," he said, rolling his eyes.
Saunders also distributed the new hats and caps Monday night. "Our Time" is hardly a groundbreaking slogan, but it's easy to buy into, given the team's recent struggles.
"We've been through so many down times, and so many negative things have been done or said, it's our time to put all that stuff behind and do what's expected and do what we believe can happen," Jamison said. "If you don't believe it, we'll find a way to get you out of here."
Around his neck, Jamison wore his new Saunders-issued iPod. Yes, it does require a unique code to use -- a bit of protection just in case it gets left in a hotel lobby. It includes videos and diagrams of plays, and it can be updated at any time.
"They got the schedule for what we're going to do in March," Jamison said. "From what time we're leaving the bus, shootaround, those are the things that to me make a difference. There's no excuse why you don't know the plays. You can listen to your music and look at the plays."
Arenas, as is his custom, arrived at about 6:30 a.m. Tuesday for the first practice. Forward Caron Butler got there at 8 a.m., some 2½ hours early, saying it felt "like the first day of school."
"Coach Saunders and the coaching staff, they had it going real fast with a nice pace," Butler said. "By the time we looked up, it was 2½ hours into it, we was done."
Said Jamison: "We have a lot to learn. That play book is like one of those NFL play books, it goes on for days. But he incorporated things so quickly, and then you go right into it. It's no rest time. They don't play around."
Some things don't change, however. For years, the Wizards have opened training camp promising they will finally start playing better defense. Sure enough, they broke one of their huddles with the chant: "1-2-3, defense!" Given the team's defense-challenged history, it wouldn't have been surprising if Saunders had asked the hypnotist to put the players in a spell while saying over and over: "You will play defense."
"It's not talking about it, we're just going to have to do it," Jamison said. "Yes, we mean it this year."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press
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