JaVale McGee said he arrived at training camp about five pounds short of his goal to weigh 250 pounds in his second season, but it wasn't for lack of effort. McGee said he was making progress with his weight gain until he spent two weeks in August with mysterious workout guru Frank Matrisciano in San Francisco.
Matrisciano has worked with Wizards teammate Gilbert Arenas and No. 1 overall pick Blake Griffin, among others, and McGee sought him out at the urging of Milt Newton, the Wizards' vice president of player personnel. Matrisciano is known as "Hell's Trainer" because of his unorthodox methods, including climbing staircases with medicine balls, wearing weighted vests and running up sand hills in harnesses.
"It was some tough stuff, but I made it through," McGee said, albeit a tad lighter. During those runs up the 30-foot sand hills, McGee said he told himself, "This will help out in the long run."
McGee's stint with Matrisciano was shorter than those of most clients, which might explain why Coach Flip Saunders still criticized McGee's conditioning and focus during training camp in Richmond; at one point he called McGee "overwhelmed."
The 7-foot McGee, athletic but still unpolished, is third on the depth chart at center, behind starter Brendan Haywood and veteran Fabricio Oberto. Oberto will get the start Sunday afternoon in Toronto, with Haywood recovering from a sprained right ankle suffered during the Wizards' 123-115 loss to Dallas on Friday.
While in Richmond, McGee would grow tired and lose focus, which forced him into the role of a spectator during many of the team sc rimmages. As Saunders likes to say, "Fatigue makes cowards of us all."
But with the Wizards no longer having two practices a day, Saunders said he has noticed "some better concentration" from McGee. That has manifested itself on the floor through the first two preseason games, as McGee has scored a total of 22 points on 7-for-8 shooting, with six rebounds in 32 minutes off the bench.
McGee received extended playing time on Friday with Haywood out and was 5 for 5 from the floor, finishing with 14 points and three rebounds. He blocked his first shot of the preseason, batting back a Drew Gooden jumper, and tried to bounce up and reject Gooden's putback but was called for goaltending. McGee also made some turnaround jumpers and spot-up jumpers from beyond 15 feet.
"JaVale had a really solid game. He made some shots that were bad shots -- but he made them," Saunders said with a chuckle. "He did some really good things."
McGee was far from satisfied with his performance. "I could've rebounded a little bit more, blocked a few more shots."
He was a pleasant surprise last season, as he transformed from a player who former coach Eddie Jordan said he would use sparingly to someone who wound up starting 14 games as a rookie. "I felt that was because no one knew what I could do or what I was," McGee said.
But that changed this summer, when McGee's performance in Las Vegas during NBA summer league play -- 17.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4 blocks per game -- earned him an invitation to USA Basketball's training camp for talented young players. "It definitely raised my confidence, being able to play with some of the elite young guys," McGee said. "Although it was a default choice, I was still chosen. I was still there. It was an honor, of course. I hope I get invited again."
For now, he has to earn more trust from Saunders, who said he plans on using McGee for five-minute stints during the regular season. Saunders's hope is for the slender McGee to develop into a role similar to Denver Nuggets reserve big man Chris Andersen, a high-flying dunker and shot-blocker. "Like most young players, you try to give him as much responsibility as he can accept and keep on improving and as he does that, you keep on giving him more responsibility," Saunders said. "Right now, we're counting on him to be an energy guy, defensive rebounder, shot blocker and attack the offensive glass. Do a lot of the hustle things and as that develops and he starts getting that in his repertoire, we're always going to throw him a couple of bones in the block."
McGee's role could expand, especially with Saunders hoping to limit the 34-year-old Oberto's playing time in the first half of the season, with the expectation that he will be ready for the postseason. McGee said he is learning while observing Haywood and Oberto in practice, but Haywood said he wouldn't go out of his way to help McGee. "I'm not really worried about showing him anything," Haywood said recently. "He's a professional. Once you get to this level, you go to worry about yourself. I think he's making strides. It's more on him than anybody else."
McGee is one of the most technologically savvy players on the team and is frequently updating his account on Twitter. His responses to questions are limited to 140 characters or less, so he hopes to speak loudest with his game. "I see myself being a real energetic player, real spark off the bench, real crowd-pleaser," McGee said.