Beal, 19, brings maturity, skill to retooled Wizards

When the Washington Wizards used the third pick in last month’s NBA Draft on Bradley Beal, it wasn’t solely for his jump shot.

His character was of equal or greater importance to the Wizards.

Having been dogged in recent seasons by immature behavior and embarrassing publicity – most notably the Gilbert Arenas locker room gun incident – the franchise is trying to lose its knucklehead image while also improving on the court, where the Wizards went 20-46 last season and fired coach Flip Saunders.

The front office has pretty much broomed all the bad actors out of the Verizon Center. Arenas, JaVale McGee and Nick Young are gone. Andray Blatche has one foot out the revolving door and could be gone by today.

In their place, the Wizards are banking on players such as Beal, a 19-year-old who played one college season at Florida, to get them moving in the right direction and win back credibility with fans.

“They told me that’s why they were bringing me in, because I’m a team player and the kind of person I am,” Beal said. “I’m glad to be part of it.”

On balance, the 6-foot-5-inch shooting guard has performed well in the NBA Summer League, averaging 18.7 and shooting 41 percent from the field through three games, in which the Wizards are 1-2.

“I feel comfortable out there,” Beal said. “I’m still learning my teammates and it’s a different kind of game. Things happen quicker. It’s a more physical game. But I’m just trying to stay relaxed and not force things.”

Sam Cassell, the Wizards’ summer coach, said he has been impressed with Beal’s poise.

“I told a friend of mine that if the score is 100-100, you wouldn’t know if he has one point or 100,” Cassell said. “His demeanor is old school. He reminds me of Allan Houston. You look at his face and you can’t tell a thing. It’s a great thing to have. He just goes out and plays.”

Beal’s maturity shows on the court. His shot wasn’t falling during an 85-78 loss to the D-League Selects on Sunday - he was 1 of 7 on 3-pointers – but Beal showed no frustration. He chalked it up to growing pains.

“I was probably pressing a little but I’m here to learn and I’ll get better,” he said.

At Florida, Beal led the Gators in rebounding (6.7), steals (1.4) and minutes per game (34.2), while averaging 14.8 points and 2.2 assists. He was the first Florida player to be named first-team All-Southeastern Conference and SEC All-Freshman in the same season.

“I had a great experience at Florida and it was a tough decision to leave,” Beal said. “But I had to do what was best for me and my family.”

His arrival in Washington, where he’ll team with point guard John Wall, gives the Wizards a potentially formidable backcourt. And with the team’s other additions – bringing in Nene, Trevor Ariza, Brian Cook and Maurice Evans – the Washington locker room now is a more mature place. The retention of coach Randy Wittman, who replaced Saunders after 17 games last season and went 18-31, also points to the stability.

Beal and the Wizards play Memphis at 3 p.m. today at Cox Pavilion. When he left the arena Sunday, Beal had an ice pack wrapped around his left ankle, a souvenir of playing three straight days.

“It’s fine. It’s no different from AAU ball where you’re playing every day. We’re not even playing 12 minutes (quarters) here, so playing three in a row is no problem. But it definitely will help get me ready for the regular season,” Beal said.

Off the court, he’s already in postseason form – just the way the Wizards hoped he would be.

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.

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