FAIRFAX, Va. – Earl "The Pearl" Monroe said he hadn't been to an NBA training camp in 30 years, when he was starting his final season as a player.
Monroe stopped by the Washington Wizards camp this week as part of the franchise's concerted effort this season to reconnect the current team with its proud past. Monroe played four full seasons with the Baltimore Bullets — and his No. 10 jersey hangs in the rafters at the Verizon Center.
Monroe was eager to break his long hiatus because he said he wanted to get in on the ground floor of what he believes will be a team on the rise.
"What they've got here is a group of young guys that they can mold into the type of team they want to have," Monroe said. "Aside from that, they've got a lot of talent."
Monroe would know.
Over his 13-year career, Monroe averaged 18.8 points per game thanks to his playground skills, which allowed him to get off acrobatic shots in traffic and over defenders. He was the No. 2 pick in the 1967 draft by the Bullets, where he set several scoring marks — including points in game — that were eventually eclipsed by Gilbert Arenas.
"We have, I guess, a mutual respect for each other," Monroe said of Arenas. "I'm looking for him to come out and have a great season this year. I'm expecting him to be a real force."
Monroe also spoke positively about the speed of Washington rookie John Wall, and said the chemistry the team displayed reminded him of his Bullets years.
"Good teams start with camaraderie, and these guys seem to have a lot of that. I'm looking forward to seeing them progress over the course of the year," he said.
New Wizards owner Ted Leonsis and coach Flip Saunders have reached out to many Bullets-Wizards greats over the past several months, and some are expected to attend the final practices of camp over the weekend. Saunders said Monroe's message to the team was simple, but effective.
"He thinks this team has an opportunity to do something special, and he wanted to let them know that he's a part of our family," Saunders said.
Notes: Arenas said out the Friday morning practice with a sore leg, according to Saunders. The coach said he expected Arenas to take part in the team scrimmages later in the day. ... F Al Thornton had an unusual announcement on his Twitter account Thursday night: "This may sound crazy but I just literally got hit by a car." Thornton was walking when he was hit, and the car was driving slowly, so he wasn't hurt and was back at practice Friday. He did not speak to reporters.