The Dunking Ninja

On June 23rd of last year, the Washington Wizards made Jan Vesely the sixth overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. At 21 years old, Vesely has brought more youth to an already young Wizards team. The Wizards began this season with eight players under the age of 24.

Vesely played the last three seasons in Serbia with Partizan Belgrade. In 2010-11, he averaged 10.1 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 1.1 assists per game. While his numbers may not have blown anyone away, his high flying dunks are what made Vesely a household name overseas.

There were some who called him the “Flying Czech” or even the “European Blake Griffin.” Others referred to him as the “Dunking Ninja.” One thing everyone could agree on was Vesely’s natural athleticism, which resulted in several highlight reel dunks while he played in the Euroleague.

Many Wizards fans are most excited to see Vesely play alongside Wizards 2010 1st overall pick, John Wall. Before the season, Vesely was asked about his thoughts on teaming up with the Wizards guard.

“He can pass well and he’s a very good point guard. I think we can work well running the fast break.”

Vesely’s ability to run the floor was one of the main reasons the Wizards decided to take him with the sixth pick.

“I think Jan is going to be a very good compliment for John Wall. He can really get up and down the floor and he can finish in transition,” said Wizards President Ernie Grunfeld. “He fits the mold of the type of players we are looking for. We want players who play hard and compete.”

Wizards coaches said that last season there were many times the team did not have anyone that could keep up with John (Wall), but that was Jan’s strength. Vesely’s athleticism and leaping ability, combined with Wall’s passing skills, have already been on display to provide entertaining nights inside Verizon Center.

Although his dunks will get most of the attention, Vesely brings more to the game than simply being able to dunk a basketball.

“He has a great motor, has a high basketball IQ, he’s a team player, he brings toughness to the floor, and he’s a very well rounded player,” Grunfeld went on to say about his first selection in last year’s draft.

Wizards Coaches echoed many similar sentiments about the Wizards new forward.

“He brings high energy, he’s very aggressive, and he has a great personality.”

These points were noticed as early as the first few days of training camp when Vesely impressed his fellow teammates and the coaches with his passing ability and defensive awareness.

“Of all of our players, he has a great feel for the game and really understands basketball. He passes the ball extremely well, makes the extra pass, knows when to hold it and when to get rid of it. The speed of the game is his forte. Defensively, he can really move his feet and play bigger type people.”

“I think he’s athletic, he can play defense and he doesn’t rush anything. He’s learning how to play the NBA game,” Wizards point guard John Wall stated during Wizards training camp.

Even Vesely himself felt good about how he was adjusting to the NBA style. “I’m learning the system, working on it every day and now I’m getting into better shape to get into a rhythm,” he said. He played against the top level of competition in Europe, so he enters the league with a pre-existing knowledge of how to be successful against superb athletes.

After an early season injury sidelined Vesely for the first seven games of the year, he has gradually become more of an impact player for this Wizards team as the season has rolled along. He made his first start of the season in Houston on January 27th vs. the Rockets and responded by scoring five points and pulling down four rebounds in the first quarter. But, it has not been the traditional statistics that have caused the Wizards coaches to take notice of what Vesely has done.

“He brings us energy, a level of IQ basketball-wise and he just does a lot of good things on both ends of the floor that don’t show up in the stat sheet. But those things are very important for us and that’s given us a boost in our ball movement and that’s important for us” said Wizards Head Coach Randy Wittman.

Vesely has done plenty on the court to become a favorite amongst the Wizards fans, but that is nothing he is not used to. Up to this point, his personality has caused him to be a fan favorite everywhere he’s played. His fast paced style and athletic ability have even drawn comparisons to Blake Griffin and Kevin Garnett. When asked what he thought about being called the European Blake Griffin, he joked that Blake is the “American Jan Vesely.”

Many people remember Vesely’s draft night not because he was the sixth pick, but because of the kiss he put on his girlfriend which received all kinds of media attention. Vesely was surprised by the aftermath and laughed it off when asked about the incident.

“In Europe it would be nothing, when you have a girlfriend next to you it’s natural to give her a kiss.”

Vesely’s outgoing personality should develop and be seen more often once he becomes better adjusted to American culture and the English language. Until then, he will have to show it off on the court.

Standing at 6’11, the Wizards expect Vesely to create many mismatches on the floor. Although he admits that he needs to improve his perimeter shooting, the coaching staff remains confident that his mechanics will allow for him to do that.

The one thing Jan won’t need to practice is his dunking ability. Type Jan Vesely into YouTube and you will see why.