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June 17, 2019

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Former UNR star battling for roster spot with Washington Wizards

JaVale McGee trying to prove himself as a dependable center

JaVale McGee caught the attention of many NBA scouts at the Thomas & Mack Center while battling UNLV as a standout at Nevada-Reno.

But now McGee must fight to earn the confidence of his coaches on that same hardwood in Las Vegas, because the Washington Wizards aren't exactly keeping it a secret that they are shopping around for an experienced big man.

McGee, though, hopes to put an end to that free agent search.

Entering his second NBA season, the 7-foot center knows he has to pull off an impressive Summer League performance to earn a regular spot in the Wizards' starting lineup.

"That's definitely my main goal right now," McGee said. "Any player wants to be the main guy. I'm just trying to work as hard as I can and be the best at my position."

In his rookie campaign, McGee appeared in 75 games while starting 14 of them for an average of 15 minutes of court time. He posted an average of 6.5 points, 3.9 rebounds and one block per game.

Although those statistics were a far cry from the 14.1 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.8 blocks per game he averaged as an All-WAC sophomore at UNR, the Wizards think McGee can still develop into a marquee center in the NBA.

"That's why he is here," said Summer League coach Randy Wittman. "He has to show that he can control the paint in this setting because it's a whole other level in the NBA. He has to take these five games and say, 'I'm going to dominate the paint' from a scoring standpoint but also in rebounding, blocking shots and overall play."

So far, though, McGee has not dominated in his second stint in Summer League. In the Wizards' first two games in Las Vegas, McGee is just 6-of-21 from the floor, but he is averaging 9.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per game.

Last summer, McGee averaged 8.4 points and 4.6 rebounds per game.

"I don't know, I feel the same and I think I'm more prepared," McGee said. "Every game is another chance to prove yourself."

Even though the Wizards might still sign a free agent center, McGee faces stiff competition from just the Summer League roster as the Wizards prepare to face the Minnesota Timberwolves at 8 p.m. Friday in the Cox Pavilion.

Washington's summer roster is loaded with big men including Andray Blatche, 7-footer John Edwards and rookies Alade Amino and Josh Heytvelt.

"We are all trying to earn our spots, but right now I think both me and JaVale really need to do what we can to prove that they don't need to go out and find somebody else to be the big man," Blatche said.

Despite attracting a lot of notoriety in college, former Gonzaga star Heytvelt has barely seen court time, averaging seven minutes per game and only taking three shots so far.

The more experienced Blatche, who is starting alongside McGee this summer, is averaging an impressive 24 points and 12.5 rebounds per game.

Ultimately, though, McGee's age and durability could make him an attractive long-term choice. McGee is 21 years old and did not miss a single game due to injury last season.

"We really want a versatile player at center," Wittman said. "We want a big guy that we can run our offense through. Someone who can post up, pass and dribble."

Steve Silver can be reached at 948-7822 or [email protected].

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