Ef­fu­sive Nene em­braces lead­er­ship role on youth­ful team

The Washington Times Daily - - Sports - BY CARLA PEAY

If he felt odd in a Washington Wiz­ards prac­tice T-shirt, it didn’t show. The broad smile for which Nene is known still was present as he worked out with as­sis­tant coach Gene Banks and his new backup cen­ter, Kevin Seraphin. The smile helped con­ceal the nerves. “I was a lit­tle scared a cou­ple days ago, but I un­der­stand God has a plan, and the plan is to be here,” Nene said Mon­day. “It’s a new ca­reer. It’s a new life.”

Nene, 29, sounded fully pre­pared for that new life and the chance to em­brace the chal­lenges of leav­ing the Den­ver Nuggets — the only team he has played for and the city where he makes his off­sea­son home. But chal­lenges and ad­ver­sity WIZ­ARDS AT NEW JER­SEY Wed­nes­day: TV: Ra­dio: are noth­ing new to the Brazil­ian cen­ter. In 2008, he faced the ul­ti­mate ad­ver­sity when he was di­ag­nosed with tes­tic­u­lar can­cer.

Nene took a leave of ab­sence that Jan­uary to have surgery and re­turned to the court in March. Be­fore his can­cer di­ag­no­sis, Nene suf­fered a ca­reer-threat­en­ing knee in­jury in 2005, when an awk­ward fall in the first game of the sea­son re­sulted in a torn ACL, torn menis­cus, and a sprained MCL.

“When you over­come can­cer and two se­ri­ous knee in­juries, it’s just one more ex­pe­ri­ence, one more ex­am­ple to pass to the young guys,” Nene said.

It is that type of ma­tu­rity and fo­cus that the Wiz­ards ac­quired when they got Nene and shipped Nick Young and Javale Mcgee — nei­ther known for ma­tu­rity — out of town. But com­ing to the Wiz­ards was a 48-hour odyssey of strange cir­cum­stances that Nene was not ready to talk about just yet.

Asked how he found out about the trade, Nene shook his head and re­sponded, “You don’t want to know.”

“It was crazy. It was tough. I still have no clue what hap­pened,” Nene said, ad­mit­ting sur­prise at be­ing dealt to Washington af­ter sign­ing a five-year, $67 mil­lion con­tract with the Nuggets in De­cem­ber.

Still, Nene says he is ready to con­trib­ute and al­ready has em­braced his role as a veteran leader on a young team. Af­ter one prac­tice, he said he can see the sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween his new point guard, John Wall, and his old one, Ty Law­son.

“John re­minds me of Ty,” Nene said. “Both are young and ath­letic. There’s a lot of tal­ent there. Both of them are play­ers who are al­most there, they just need to un­der­stand the game a lit­tle bit bet­ter.”

Seraphin al­ready seems com­fort­able with his new men­tor. The two sat on the prac­tice court af­ter their work­out and talked about bas­ket­ball and soc­cer.

“I can learn a lot from him,” Seraphin said. “He knows the game. For me, that’s a great feel­ing. I don’t see it like, ‘Now Nene is there; I’m not go­ing to play.’ I can im­prove on my game by watch­ing him play.”

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