The Washington Wizards opened the doors to local fans at the Verizon Center on June 23 for the annual draft party that featured food; fun and a live Jumbotron look at the 2011 NBA draft, televised on ESPN.

A catered menu including pasta salad and mini hamburgers was seen sprinkled throughout the stands leading up to the Wizards’ initial pick at No. 6. But after Turkish center Enes Kanter was drafted at No. 3 to the Utah Jazz, a collective sigh filled the building. Kanter was the fan choice among many Washingtonians, making the overall disappointment hard to hide.

“That’s the guy I thought they were going to move up and get,” loyal Wizards fan Edward Marks said. “The Wizards need a post guy and that was the guy to get. Plus, he wanted to come here and play with John Wall. We should’ve tried to trade up to get him.”

Despite Kanter’s unavailability, the party continued. With smiles and laughter reigning throughout the crowd, the anticipation rose when Washington’s pick finally arrived. The anticipation quickly turned to uncertainty when the name Jan Vesely echoed throughout the loud speakers, prompting a few cheers but mostly boos around the building.

Vesely, a 6-foot-11-inch forward from the Czech Republic, was a relative unknown leading up to the draft but one that most NBA scouts had promoted as a quality prospect. As usual with any draft prospect, Vesely’s highlight tape was aired after his selection, quickly turning those boos into some oh’s and aah’s. An assortment of dunks and blocked shots intrigued even those unfamiliar with Vesely.

“I didn’t know who this guy was but after seeing his tape I was impressed,” said draft party attendee Randell Mitchell. Mitchell admitted he didn’t like the idea of an international player joining the Wizards but couldn’t say no once he finally saw Vesely’s highlights. “He looks athletic and he can dunk on people,” Mitchell said with a laugh. “He’s a hustler on the court from what I see and having guys that play hard is always a great thing.”

Wizards coach Flip Saunders took to the stage to introduce Vesely to the audience, citing how much the team liked the foreign forward and that he is expected to make an impact on the team next season. Saunders noted how important it is to get players into the system who can mesh well with Wall. The theory also helped explain the Wizards’ No. 18 selection of Florida State forward Chris Singleton, whose name sparked a resounding “yes” in the arena.

The 6-foot-9-inch Singleton was a defensive stopper during his time at Florida State and the same will be expected from him in Washington, D.C. “We’re ready to compete now,” bragged another draft party attendee. “We’re getting guys in here who want to work hard and play. It’s a different culture in here now.”

After snagging Wall with last year’s top selection, Washington will likely get high marks by draft experts for their choices this year. But regardless of what draft grade they receive from sportsniks, the overall opinion from the fans at the Verizon Center on Thursday gave the team a passing mark with flying colors.

Stephen D. Riley

Special to the AFRO