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Seraphin on track for Saturday's home opener

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Seraphin on track for Saturday's home opener

Day two of Kevin Seraphin's return to practice went well, better than day one. If the trajectory continues, expect the center to play in the Wizards regular season home opener Saturday night against Boston.

"I’m ready to play tomorrow so tomorrow I will play," an all smiles Seraphin said following Friday's practice. "Now I’m ready to play good and help my team on defense and offense."

Out since straining his right calf on Oct. 13 in a preseason win over Cleveland, Seraphin's recovery is apparently ahead of schedule. While the team had been vague when asked about the third-year center's projected return, Seraphin said, "I’m supposed to be out like four weeks, and [now] just two weeks. I’m just cool. I’m just good."

That is good, especially since it remains unclear when the short-handed Wizards will have the services of Nene (foot), the team's primary interior option. Certainly not for Saturday's home opener against the Celtics (7:00 p.m., Comcast SportsNet) and their ageless center Kevin Garnett. John Wall (knee) is not projected back until around Thanksgiving.

In between the most recent practice sessions, Seraphin required some maintenance.

"The first practice, yeah, I was a little bit tightness because I have like blood between my muscle in my calf. So yesterday, we go to hospital to pull it out," the 6-foot-10 center said. "Now I feel good. But the first one, yeah, I feel a little bit tight. But I only play half court so that was cool. No full court.

Following that descriptive medical procedure nugget, Seraphin was asked whether he's truly ready or is simply anxious to return and thus is convincing himself he's good to go.

Seraphin: "I really feel ready because I practice. I have to practice to see, like a test, and I did great. I can play. I can run. I just can play. I think so I am ready. I’m don’t try to convince myself I’m ready, but my body and me, we know we’re ready."

His youngest teammate concurs.

"Kevin looked good," 19-year-old Bradley Beal said. "He probably has to get back in shape, he's been out for a while, he'll lose some wind. But he's posting hard, he's finishing, he's been doing the same things that he was doing before he got injured so we're happy to have him back and he's going to bring in good minutes for us. We're short at the big man position, we're glad to have him back."

As for how many minutes Seraphin will see against Garnett and the Celtics, much depends on how the injury holds up overnight.

"He practiced yesterday, not any soreness today," Wittman said on Friday. "But we have to see tomorrow. Again. You never know that second or third day how it feels. We’ll monitor that, then I’ll talk to the doctors before the game to get a grasp of if there will need to be a minute thing. I haven’t talked to them. I can’t really answer that question. Hopefully not, but there might be."

After a trying rookie campaign, Seraphin showed he was indeed ready for the NBA during the second half of last season, averaging 15.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.7 blocks over the final 15 games. His quality low post moves and shooting touch will boost the offensively-challenged Wizards' scoring and open up space for Beal and other perimeter options. No doubt his presence on the glass will be welcomed, especially after being dominated on the boards in the season opening loss at Cleveland. Seraphin certainly is aware he's a main cog.

"My toughness inside, my defense. Everything I do. I play defense, I’m a big part in offense now and on defense, my presence inside, and just with my teammates."

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Yuta Watanabe is chasing NBA dream, hoping to lead the way for Japanese basketball players

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USA TODAY Sports

Yuta Watanabe is chasing NBA dream, hoping to lead the way for Japanese basketball players

Before meeting with local basketball media following his pre-draft workout with the Washington Wizards on Thursday at Capital One Arena, George Washington forward Yuta Watanabe first addressed a swath of reporters from his home country of Japan. Then, while he talked to the American contingent, cameras from Japanese news outlets trailed him from a distance, documenting even the media part of his experience.

Watanabe, who played four years for the Colonials in Foggy Bottom, is now chasing an NBA dream with an entire country's hope on his shoulders. He is aiming to become just the second Japanese-born player to reach basketball's pinnacle.

It's a responsibility he carries with pride.

"I know there was only one Japanese player who played in the NBA like a long time ago, so he was the only one," Watanabe said. "If I can make it, I know that’s a really big thing in Japan. That would make young guys come to the U.S. and play basketball in the U.S. I want to be one of the pioneers for younger guys."

The only player to make the NBA from Japan in the history of the league was Yuta Tabuse, who appeared in four games for the Phoenix Suns in the 2004-05 season. Four games, that's it. If Watanabe can carve out an extended career in the NBA, it would be a first for Japan, which like many countries outside of the United States has begun to produce more basketball talent in recent decades as the game has expanded globally.

Watanabe grew up in Miki, Kagawa, a town in the southwest of Japan. He had American basketball idols growing up, including Kobe Bryant who was the NBA's biggest star when Watanabe was a kid.

Now, as Watanabe has set his sights on the NBA, he has focused on others to model his game after. He said he watches film of Jazz forward Joe Ingles because he sees similarities in their game.

"I see myself trying to be like him. He’s a lefty, a great shooter and a great defender. I’ve been watching his tape a lot," Watanabe said.

Watanabe has also been consulting with Hawks forward Joe Cavanaugh, his former teammate at George Washington. Cavanaugh went undrafted last summer, but caught on in Atlanta and appeared in 39 games as a rookie.

Watanabe's best bet may be a similar path. He is currently not projected to be drafted, but there are many avenues to the NBA, as Cavanaugh has shown. He was signed for 2017 training camp by the Hawks, then cut. Then, he inked a two-way contract which was later converted to a regular contract.

Along the way, Cavanaugh spent much of his time with the Erie Bayhawks of the G-League. Watanabe may have to go that route to make the NBA. For now, he's trying to prove what he's capable of and that has not been easy. The Wizards were his second workout and Watanabe isn't happy with his performance thus far.

He is dealing with an ankle injury that has affected his conditioning, he said, and his shots haven't been falling.

"To be honest, I didn’t shoot well. I didn’t really do well in the 1-on-1s or 3-on-3. I know I have to do better on that if I want to make an NBA team," he said.

Watanabe, who stands at 6-foot-9, said he also needs to get stronger. If defense is going to be his calling card, he can't be pushed around by bigger players in the NBA.

"I know I can defend one through four. Today, I didn’t shoot well but I know I can shoot and I can handle the ball, I can pass. I think versatility is one of my strengths," he said.

The Wizards could use depth at the small forward position and will be in the market for a host of undrafted guys to fill out their summer league team and new G-League team. Perhaps Watanabe will land in one of those spots.

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Michigan's Moritz Wagner could be Wizards' solution for a stretch-five

Michigan's Moritz Wagner could be Wizards' solution for a stretch-five

The pre-draft workout process can be an exhausting journey for players, with so many flights, hotel rooms and NBA arenas that they can all blend in together. Michigan big man Moritz Wagner, though, may have felt a sense of comfort in Washington for his pre-draft workout for the Wizards on Wednesday.

It was just over a year ago that his Michigan Wolverines cut down the nets at Capital One Arena as champions of the Big Ten conference.

"It was good memories, man. Never gets old," he said while glancing around the stadium.

Wagner, 21, will be seeing a lot more of Capital One Arena once he joins the NBA ranks and it is conceivable he ends up in Washington. They hold the 15th pick in the first round and the 44th pick in the second round and Wagner could be within their reach.

Wagner had an impressive workout in Washington and could provide what the Wizards need. He is a big, mobile and can spread the floor. Wagner was terrific at stepping out to hit threes off pick-and-rolls at Michigan and that ability would work well with Wizards All-Star point guard John Wall.

Wagner measured in at just under 7-feet at this month's NBA Combine, fifth-tallest among those who attended. He averaged 14.6 points as a junior this past season and made 39.4 percent of his threes on 4.1 attempts per game.

With three years of college experience and an NBA-ready jumper, Wagner believes he can step right in and help the Wizards.

"I think what we did at Michigan, sharing the ball and playing as a team, very organized basketball, that can help big-time," he said. "It's basically pro basketball I was playing on a different level."

As Wagner will tell you, he is very confident in his abilities. He is comfortable in his own skin and that includes openly discussing his faults. He feels good about his ability to score at the next level. Defense is where he needs to prove himself.

Despite his size, Wagner wasn't much of a rim protector in college. He averaged just a half-block a game as a junior. The Wizards need rim protection badly and he likely would not provide that.

Wagner, though, believes he can bring more to the table defensively than the numbers would suggest.

"I think I've been an offensive guy all of my life, but the more that you mature as a player, you understand that both sides are important. Without defense, you aren't going to play at any level," he said.

"I think the most important thing that I wasn't able to show in college is that I'm able to switch the ball-screen, especially with the way the league is going. Switch on everything and stay in front of guards as a big guy."

Wagner is from Germany and looks up to Mavs legend Dirk Nowitzki, who is entering his 21st season and will be in the Hall of Fame someday. Nowitzki's game has always been built around shooting and, though he developed into a decent shot-blocker in his prime, was never an elite rim protector.

Wagner hopes to follow in his footsteps playing a similar style.

"He was my MJ. He kind of shows you 'okay, this is possible and this is doable.' It's just basketball," Wagner said. "It gives you a lot of hope. It gives you a lot of belief and motivation."

Hear more from Wagner in his one-on-one interview with Chris Miller in our latest Wizards Tipoff podcast. His interview can also be found in the video above:

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