BALLOU HIGH SCHOOL -- Hundreds of students were ushered into the gym at Ballou High School as sunlight beamed through the wall-to-wall windows high above the basketball court where the Knights call home. They filled in the bleachers as music blared, unaware of what event the school was about to hold on a Friday afternoon in early October.
Then they saw Bradley Beal and Thomas Bryant and Isaiah Thomas and Rui Hachimura jog in from the corner. One by one, they realized this was no pep rally. The Washington Wizards were in the house, dressed in practice gear and ready to go to work.
The Wizards held a surprise, pop-up practice at the Southeast Washington high school on Friday instead of their usual facility in the first of what promises to be a series of grassroots initiatives for the franchise. It's a new era for the Wizards and there is more to come.
"Wizards Takeover, that's what we're calling it," head coach Scott Brooks said. "We're going to go throughout the city and surprise some schools; some high schools and elementary schools. Just want to give them a little flavor of what we do, how we compete, how we want to get better and how we practice."
The day began with players stretching and running sprints to warm up. They then did full-court drills and played a scrimmage. They closed with a meet-and-greet that featured dancing and selfies.
The Wizards want to lay roots in the D.C. area at the ground level. Going to Ballou, which is just minutes from their headquarters in Ward 8, is a logical step to take.
According to Brooks, credit for the idea goes to Sashia Jones, a longtime Wizards employee who this offseason was promoted to a more prominent role in the newly formed Monumental Basketball group. She oversees player and community services and brought the idea to Brooks and public relations director Scott Hall.
"The creativity was her," Brooks said.
Now that they have done one of these surprise practices, everyone is on board to do many more. Brooks mentioned the possibility of them happening throughout the regular season.
"I love situations like this. I hope they continue," guard Bradley Beal said. "It was fun. You embrace moments and situations like this. They were totally surprised."
"You could see the excitement, they were cheering and dancing. It was cool to see," Brooks said. "The game is fun. We can never lose the fact that the game is fun."
One common reaction for Brooks and his players to think about their own high school days. For some, they were more recent than others.
"My greatest years of playing basketball or being around basketball was my four years in high school. I loved it," Brooks said. "My senior year was by far the best year of my career, even though I won a championship in Houston."
"I would have been all over the place, yelling nonstop and wanting to get on the floor," Beal said about if something similar was done at his school back in the day.
The Wizards are starting fresh this season with a newly organized front office and a roster full of new players. They want the future to be different than the past, and Friday, they believe, is a small step towards getting there.
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