New faces, high energy headline day one of Wizards camp: "We're getting after it."
On Tuesday, the Wizards opened training camp, presented by MedStar Health, officially beginning their 2021-22 campaign. After an offseason defined by significant changes both on the court and across the bench, Washington commences a three-week stretch of practices and preseason games to ramp up for its October 20 season opener in Toronto.
Bradley Beal, who enters his 10th year in the NBA and is coming off two consecutive seasons in which he averaged at least 30.0 points per game, leads the way for Washington and was visibly excited when speaking to the media following the team’s first official practice of the season.
“Today was an awesome day,” Beal said after Tuesday’s morning session. “It was very electric. It was exciting and energetic from start to finish…Coach Wes (Unseld Jr.) has a strong voice about himself and can very much control the room, which is very impressive. His principles – he’s very defensive oriented.”
Unseld Jr. was named head coach in July after spending the last six seasons with the Nuggets and, in a short period of time, made clear impressions on players up and down the roster. Most of those players have been in-market working out at the team facility since early September, developing a rapport with Unseld Jr. and some of the other new faces around the team. Young players and veterans alike spoke highly of Unseld Jr. during Media Day on Monday – praise that continued following the team’s first practice session of camp.
“(Day one) was great,” Daniel Gafford said on Tuesday. “(Coach Unseld) had a lot of great energy this morning. He had everybody fired up and ready to work. That’s the main thing. I like him a lot. I like him as a coach. I like him as a person in general, too. I really just can’t wait for the season to come around.”
Unseld Jr. says his primary goal of the opening days of camp is laying the groundwork for schemes and tactics that will expand throughout the season as the group grows more comfortable together.
“Day one is a lot of teaching,” Unseld Jr. said. “These first few days are going to be quite a bit of foundational pieces. Just even the verbiage…Right now it’s easy. It’s a three-man drill, it’s a drill versus coaches, it’s five versus zero. Once you start playing live, the speed of it, the competition, your adrenaline gets going and sometimes that gets lost. Just making sure everyone is on the same page…is important.”
Quickly getting on the same page will be vital for a Wizards team with eight new players on the roster, many of which are expected to play important roles once the regular season begins in late October.
With Rui Hachimura (personal reasons) currently away from the team, Washington will lean on returning contributors Deni Avdija and Davis Bertans, and a series of new faces, who will get an early chance to prove what they will bring to the team. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kyle Kuzma and Montrezl Harrell arrived in D.C. this summer as part of a five-team trade, while rookie Corey Kispert, drafted 15th overall in July’s draft, will provide a shooting boost the Wizards need after ranking 28th in 3-pointers made per game (10.2).
Beal said following practice on Tuesday that the veteran presence was making an immediate impact on the way the entire roster carried itself at practice.
“You can see it and you can feel it,” Beal said. “(Harrell, Kuzma and Caldwell-Pope), they have experience. They’re vets. They know what to do, they come in and they work their tails off. And they’re defenders. They’re willing defenders…It trickles down to everybody. Our young guys are the same way. They’re locked in about it. We’re getting after it.”