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Bradley Beal embraces leading local high school players in surprising ways

Bradley Beal embraces leading local high school players in surprising ways

WASHINGTON – Bradley Beal remains in a rather unusual position.

At 25, he is young enough to remember his High School days without reaching deep into the memory bank. Though his work career isn’t lengthy, his status as an All-Star guard for the Washington Wizards offers a true North Star for impressionable kids seeking direction. Beal is aware and doesn’t take his status for granted.

Locally, that means playing the mentor role for students at the Ron Brown College Preparatory High School. Specifically, members of the varsity and JV basketball team from the District’s only all-male public school. The Wizards’ leading scorer adopted the school at the start of the 2018-19 academic year. He served as principal for a day in September. Last Thursday he took on a new job: Santa Claus.

Based on the all-smiles reaction from the more than two dozen young men opening gifts, Beal proved adept there as well.

The players didn't know Beal would join them on the court, let alone ply them with two different kinds of gifts: Boxes wrapped for the holiday season and words from an NBA player on what it means to be part of a team.

The reaction over the mystery gifts came immediately. The kids moved into a large common area, formed a circle and opened the boxes simultaneously. Each player received two pairs of shoes: Gold Air Jordan 1 Retro high tops, and purple and white Nike Hyperdunk X.

Beal clearly understood the target audience based on the loud kids-at-Christmas jumping around reaction.

“Kids these days, this generation, they love sneakers, they love shoes. That brightens their day, especially Jordan’s,” Beal said to NBC Sports Washington. “They always want a pair of shoes they can hoop in. That’s a no-brainer. To be able to see that, I didn’t think they would react the way they did, honestly. I just thought they would be, ‘aww, this is cool.’. No, they were really appreciative.”

How or if the players embrace the other part of Beal’s gift comes down the line.

“Continue to work hard, continue to grind. You guys deserve these things,” Beal said before the players tore into the wrapping paper. “It’s not even about this. It’s about what you continue to do, your brotherhood. Continue to get better on the court, off the court, and continue to challenge each other. Push each other. Push the next man to be the next man he can possibly be.”

He addressed the varsity team wearing a purple “RB” hat while holding his nearly five-month-old son Bradley Beal II.

“You guys are brothers in here. This is a brotherhood that goes on for years. You guys will talk about this when you’re in college, after college. You’re always going to remember this flat out,” Beal said. “Every single day, let’s get better, let’s get better. Don’t take it for granted because you don’t get days back. Don’t waste a day, not one.”

Beal isn’t wasting his role model opportunity especially since such moments didn’t exist for him growing in St. Louis.

“It’s crazy. I never had an NBA player come talk to me,” Beal told NBC Sports Washington. “I never had an NBA player look my way besides (12-year veteran and fellow St. Louis native) David Lee. I went to his camp one time when I was younger, but that wasn’t the norm.”

Neither is this college preparatory school, which opened in 2016 and is similar to the Chaminade College Preparatory School Beal attended.

“I try to come around as much as possible, be a mentor. This is a school that’s brand new. These kids are blessed to come here. As a college prep school, it’s hard to come here. On top of that it [is part] of the public system, which is crazier because you don’t see that with the private school setting,” Beal said. “It’s amazing to see what they do here. The kids work tremendously hard. … They don’t have everything. They don’t come from everything.”

The setting gave Beal a chance to escape his duties as one of the Wizards’ leading men and put the focus on the community, his family. Still, it wasn’t easy filtering out Washington’s struggles this season as Beal spoke about not wasting a day and pushing teammates. He stood at the school hours after the Wizards returned home from a two-game road trip with vexing losses at Atlanta and Houston.

The connection wasn’t lost on the All-Star.

“Most definitely. If I’m struggling or the Wizards are struggling, I try to relate things I’m going with ways we can get better with other teams,” Beal told NBC Sports Washington. “This is the future of basketball. I’m not going to play this forever. (Wizards teammate) John (Wall) isn’t going to play forever. None of us are going to play forever. These kids are the future. If I can help in any way, I’m going to try to do it. These kids, my AAU team, high school kids back home, I’m going to try to reach out and impact as many times as possible.”

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Rui Hachimura falls to Devin Booker in NBA 2K Players Tournament

Rui Hachimura falls to Devin Booker in NBA 2K Players Tournament

Coming off a nail-biting win over Donovan Mitchell in the first round, Rui Hachimura lost to Suns star Devin Booker in the quarterfinals of the NBA 2K Players Tournament Thursday night. 

The Wizards' rookie forward played with the Clippers, while Booker went with the Mavericks. Not only did Hachimura have the more talented team in this matchup, but it looked like he had a coach sitting near him the whole time too. 

Hachimura's biggest challenge in this one was finding easy points against Booker's defense. Booker did a good job using his center to close down driving lanes while leaving Hachimura's big men wide open in the corner.

The Clippers bigs aren't great outside shooters, so outside of a few surprising makes from Montrezl Harrell, it was a rough night offensively. Hachimura tried to go with a small-ball lineup with Marcus Morris at the center spot, but then he started giving up way too many offensive rebounds. 

On the flip side when Hachimura tried to do the same thing to Booker, Kristaps Porzingis and Maxi Kleber were able to knock those shots down. That left the door open for Luka Doncic to get open looks and that's how Booker eventually pulled away in the second half. 

It was a good run for Hachimura in the tournament. He knocked off the four-seed in Mitchell and delivered one of the more memorable moments of the first round. He just ran into a buzzsaw in Booker, who may have a decent chance to win the whole thing. 

The semifinals and finals of the 2K Players Tournament will begin on Saturday. 

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GM Tommy Sheppard says Wizards plan to retain Shabazz Napier in free agency

GM Tommy Sheppard says Wizards plan to retain Shabazz Napier in free agency

With the NBA season on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic, the extra free time has given teams an opportunity to reflect on the first 64 games of the 2019-20 campaign. 

Whichever direction the league decides to go with returning to play, the 2020 NBA draft and free agency period loom large once the season is over. For the Wizards, they have a pair of key players set to hit the open market: Davis Bertans and Shabazz Napier. 

John Wall's return significantly elevates expectations surrounding the Wizards next season and will make the team's offseason decision-making process that much more important. In the case of Napier and Bertans, Washington's general manager Tommy Sheppard talked highly of both in a Q&A with Dave Johnson Thursday

"I think with [Napier and Bertans], when we acquired them not as rentals we acquired them to stay here," Sheppard said. "I think the players that we acquired, they're here to show that they can be here for the future. With Davis and Shabazz, they showed enough to us that certainly we would love to retain them. We plan to."

What Sheppard had to say about Bertans isn't necessarily new. He maintained the stance all year that the Wizards intended to keep Bertans this summer and held true to it when Washington reportedly turned down offers including first-round picks at the trade deadline. 

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Napier's future with the team, on the other hand, has not been talked about publicly by someone like Sheppard. The Wizards acquired him from the Nuggets in exchange for Jordan McRae at the trade deadline and the six-year veteran appeared in 15 games for Washington before the season was suspended. 

Napier started eight games and averaged 12.2 points, 4.4 assists, 2.4 rebounds and 1.7 steals while shooting 43.1% from the field and 38.1% from three. Based on production alone, it's not that surprising Sheppard wants to bring the former UConn star back. 

However, if the Wizards can re-sign Napier this summer, they'd have quite a lot of viable point guards on their roster going into next season. Wall will be back and Ish Smith will be in the final year of his two-year contract.

Napier would figure to be either the third point guard or Washington's backup shooting guard depending on how you look at things. Then you have to ask how comfortable you are with Napier potentially taking minutes away from Jerome Robinson and ball-handling opportunities from Troy Brown Jr., both young wings the Wizards need to take a step forward next year. 

But shooting and playmaking are at a premium in the NBA today, and as defensively challenged as an Ish Smith-Shabazz Napier backcourt would be off the bench, there's no doubt Washington's second unit would be able to put up a ton of points. 

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