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Jasonn Hannibal's road to Wizards' Summer League team about as unusual as it gets

Jasonn Hannibal's road to Wizards' Summer League team about as unusual as it gets

Jasonn Hannibal's last stint as a professional basketball player before he earned a spot on the Wizards' 2017 Summer League team was in Iran, a full 18 months before the Wizards brought him to Las Vegas and assigned him the No. 64 jersey number. The sport of basketball had already taken him from his hometown of Mississauga, Ontario in Canada to the University of Portland in Oregon to Slovenia for two years then to Kosovo, then to two different teams in Mexico and finally the Middle East, a region of the world generally associated with many things, basketball not one of them.

Hannibal, 29, had experienced plenty of bumps in the road, including in Slovenia where he tore his meniscus while playing in his league's All-Star Game. But Iran, though shortlived, altered his life in numerous ways.

For one, the lifestyle was an unrelenting culture shock. Hannibal learned that quickly on a broiling day in January. After walking outdoors in shorts his general manager pulled him aside and told him that was prohibited. So was making any sort of physical contact with women in public.

[RELATED: Wizards match $106M offer sheet from Nets, re-sign Porter]

Hannibal, who was the only non-Iranian player on the team, remembers one experience early on that truly opened his eyes to just how far away from home he was.

"We were driving to the gym one day and a bus rode by. I saw all the women sitting in the back and the men sitting up front. I asked one of my teammates ‘what’s going on over there?’ He said ‘that’s how it is.’ In North America, we’re used to different things that are normal to us. When I go over there, I see things that are odd to me but are normal to them," he said.

Hannibal was in Iran just weeks before he received a call from his mother at three in the morning. She was distraught. His father had passed. Now he had to travel over 6,000 miles to attend the funeral.

It took several connecting flights for Hannibal to reach Ontario and by the time the services were done, his team in Iran had already moved on.

"I tried to get back to my team but they didn’t want me anymore. Because I didn’t have stats, I was only there for a month, [my agent] couldn’t get me on another team," he said.

[RELATED: Some positives in Wizards' first Summer League loss to Grizzlies]

It would be natural to doubt the future and Hannibal surely did. It had been nine months since he left Iran when Andrew Nicholson, then a forward for the Wizards, invited Hannibal to watch some preseason games in Washington. Hannibal and Nicholson are close friends, having both grown up in Mississauga. 

Hannibal and some of his buddies packed a car and drove down to D.C. After one of those Wizards' exhibition games, he ran into Tommy Sheppard, the Wizards' senior vice president of basketball operations.

"Tommy was surprised I wasn’t playing anywhere because I’m so big. I told him I am still looking and hopefully I would be able to get on a team somewhere. He basically told me that if I helped them for the whole year in player development, that he would put me on the summer league team. That’s how it came around," Hannibal said.

So, Hannibal did just that. For the entire 2016-17 season, he served as a player development intern on the Wizards' staff. He rebounded and passed to set up John Wall, Bradley Beal and others during pregame shooting drills. He played in pickup games in practice. At 6-10, he could help simulate opposing big men by defending the rim.

Player development and coaching is something Hannibal enjoys and hopes to do once his playing days are over. But they aren't over. This past year he never considered his career as a professional basketball as finished. The Summer League remained a goal he worked on tirelessly in his spare time.

At night, hours after Wizards practice was over, he would return to the gym to work on his conditioning on an exercise bike. He played in pickup games with Wizards players and staff members whenever he could. He battled video coordinator Jimmy Bradshaw and other staff assistants in full court games of 1-on-1. 

[RELATED: Oubre cleared to practice again after right knee procedure]

Over the summer, Hannibal trains at a gym called FITS in Toronto. After the Wizards' season ended, he returned there to get ready for Summer League. Once the trainers found out what was next, their directives were simple.

"They were like ‘get on the track. Get on the track, get in the stairwell.’ And that’s it. Running up the stairs, jumping up the stairs, shuttles, all kinds of stuff," he said.

Hannibal is also now driven by a new motivation.

"Unfortunately, my father is not still here. But now I feel like I have a different why for what I do. Every time I’m on the court, even if I’m a little tired, I think ‘I’ve gotta do this for dad.’ Just sprint a little harder or go a little harder," he said.

Hannibal has the height of an NBA big man and, as a member of the team staff, was often wearing Wizards gear this past season. That would cause confusion at home games where just about every night fans would ask him for autographs or mistake him for Ian Mahinmi or Daniel Ochefu. Sometimes he would oblige at the urge of a kid's parents. Once he signed one, the autograph requests would come in droves.

He is 6-10 and goes by the imposing name of 'Hannibal,' yet Jasonn has the demeanor of a gentle giant. His response to those asking for autographs or pictures would sometimes be: "I'm just a rebounder."

He wasn't actually on the team. Now, with the Wizards' Summer League squad, he can't say that anymore.

[RELATED: Bradley Beal on his summer and the Wizards' offseason]


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Wizards' biggest storylines coming out of the preseason

Wizards' biggest storylines coming out of the preseason

The Wizards closed their 2019-20 preseason schedule with a win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday, which means up next is the regular season opener on Wednesday night in Dallas. Now that the exhibition schedule is (finally) over, here are five takeaways from what we saw...

Injuries have added up

The Wizards entered this preseason with a lot of things to sort out in their rotation due to the significant roster overhaul they went through in the summer. But injuries complicated things further for head coach Scott Brooks, who wasn't offered anything close to a full cupboard to work with.

The most notable injuries were to Isaiah Thomas (thumb) and Troy Brown Jr. (calf). Both players will be key members of the rotation when they recover, but are each on track to miss the start of the regular season. The same goes for C.J. Miles, who has a foot injury. There is also Ian Mahinmi, who has an Achilles issue, though he is not likely to play a big role on the team this season.

Hachimura looks the part

The early returns on rookie Rui Hachimura have been good. The 2019 ninth overall pick has not looked timid or out of place on an NBA floor. He has shown he can attack the rim assertively and has even made a few threes. Those two areas will be key to watch for him this season; how he can adapt to NBA interior defenders and shooting threes from a longer distance.

Hachimura is a likely starter for the Wizards this season and should get ample shot opportunities. He is going to have a chance to be a focal point of the Wizards' offense and probably a long enough leash to play through his mistakes. As a young player, you can't ask for much more than that.

Also impressive this preseason were Moe Wagner, who was much better than he showed in the Las Vegas Summer League, and Thomas Bryant, who looks like he is going to take another step from his breakout season last year. Bryant is more confident knocking down threes and has been a force on the glass. Don't be surprised if he averages a double-double this season.

Small forward is a question

The Wizards had Brown penciled in to be their full-time starting small forward, according to a person familiar with their plans, but his injury is expected to keep him out to start the season. He did a post-practice workout the other day and wasn't moving very quickly, either due to discomfort in his calf or to be extra cautious in fear of a setback.

Either way, he is still rehabbing and so is Miles. The Wizards also released Justin Anderson, leaving them with no obvious choice to start at the three. At this point, it looks likely they will have to either put someone there that is probably best suited for another position like Hachimura, Davis Bertans or Jordan McRae, or roll with someone who is very inexperienced like Bonga or Admiral Schofield. The odds seem better they choose the former.

Final roster spot?

The Wizards now have until Monday at 5 p.m. to decide who gets their final roster spot. The safe money at this point is probably for point guard Justin Robinson to get that spot and for Chris Chiozza to have his contract converted to a two-way deal.

The Chiozza part has been speculated for weeks and it is the direction the team is leaning, NBC Sports Washington was told. If Chiozza did get the two-way contract, he could remain with the team to start the season and help fill the void at point guard while Thomas recovers from his left thumb surgery. Chiozza would have 45 days allotted at the NBA level, but that clock would not begin until Oct. 28 when G-League training camps open.

Beal's commitment

This season took on an entirely different tone with Thursday's news Bradley Beal would sign a contract extension with the Wizards. This year had the potential to be overshadowed by Beal's uncertain future, but now that has been put to rest. The trade rumors can be set aside as Beal has made it official his commitment to the Wizards' plan.

Now, that could get interesting late in the year if losses are piling up. He ultimately wants to win and it will bear watching how he shows his frustration if the team isn't playing up to his standards.


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Wizards and Mystics join Game Growers to help boost girls participation in sports

Wizards and Mystics join Game Growers to help boost girls participation in sports

The Washington Wizards and Mystics join in on Nike’s NBA and WNBA Game Growers program. The Game Growers program is meant to provide eighth grade girls with the skills and assets they need in order to grow their participation in sports in their communities. 

With this new program, the Wizards and Mystics can contribute to expanding the game of basketball for young DMV girls. Along with that, the Washington Mystics just won the WNBA Championships, this is perfect timing for them to introduce the sport to the next generation.

Today, the Game Growers Program officially was put into action, on a YouTube video stream. The video stream had Las Vegas Aces forward A’Ja Wilson, actress Sky Katz, the Director of Operations for the Women’s National Basketball Players Association Terri Jackson featuring in it. They discussed the advantages of being an athlete beyond going professional and encourage girls to apply.

In order for the future basketball stars to get in on the action, they must apply to GameGrowers.com by submitting their ideas on how to grow the game of basketball in their communities. The application opened today and will close on November 15, 2019. The winners will be made public in December 2019. 

By January 2020 two girls will join alongside the Wizards and Mystics in going to Training Camp at Nike’s World Headquarters in Washington County, Oregon. This event won’t only be run by Nike and professional basketball players, but will also have GENYOUth (a youth empowerment organization) tag along as well. At the Training Camp, the girls will have an opportunity to polish up their ideas with Nike and NBA and WNBA teams. 

If lucky, some Game Growers teams will be chosen to exhibit their ideas at the 2020 WNBA Draft, which will be in New York City this April.