Russell Westbrook entered the NBA in 2008 and made his first All-Star team in 2011, which was a long time ago for some of the Wizards' youngest players. Rookie Deni Avdija, for example, was born in 2001, meaning he was seven years old when Westbrook began his career.
Though at 32 Westbrook may not seem very old, he's been around long enough to span multiple generations of NBA players.
"He was one of my favorite players growing up. I watched him a lot," 22-year-old Rui Hachimura said. "I have so much respect for his game."
"Listen, I will be honest. At the beginning it was cool," Avdija, who is only 19, said. "But eventually, we all play basketball, we all are humans."
Those guys are now teammates with one of the best players from their childhood. Westbrook has only a few practices with the Wizards under his belt and he's already making an impression.
"The first thing I noticed is he’s a great leader. He’s so vocal," Hachimura said. "He’s almost like a head coach. He always talks to us and he always talks to me. He’s a great guy. I like to play with him. He actually changed our energy, the team."
"We’ve been talking a lot and I’m listening to him because he’s been through a lot," Avdija said.
Westbrook is the third-oldest player on the Wizards, but the most experienced in terms of games played. He is also by far their most accomplished, having won the MVP award, two scoring titles and been to the NBA Finals.
Sometimes it can be awkard when the leader of a team is a newcomer, but in this case his track record speaks for itself. It's only natural that he takes a leadership role, especially with so many young players. The Wizards have 12 players in training camp who are 24 or younger.
Last week, Westbrook explained his approach to leading young players and what he expects of them.
"I expect them to be them. The biggest thing is be who they are. That’s how you learn, make mistakes; that’s how the great stars of our league and the young stars [learned," he said.
"You make mistakes when you first have to learn. We’ve got a lot of young guys. Go out and compete and play hard, that’s the biggest thing. All the Xs and Os, that will come. But playing hard and understanding what it means to compete, work hard and everything else will follow."
Maybe some of the Wizards' young players were star struck at first, but now it's time to get to work.