Dunk contest made Wizards' JaVale McGee a household name

Washington's JaVale McGee dunks three balls during the slam-dunk contest during the NBA's all-star weekend.
Washington's JaVale McGee dunks three balls during the slam-dunk contest during the NBA's all-star weekend.
Posted: February 23, 2011

WASHINGTON - His weekend levitation act has turned Washington Wizards center JaVale McGee from a virtual unknown into a household name.

When the Wizards visit the 76ers Wednesday at the Wells Fargo Center, the team's headliner will still be rookie point guard John Wall, the first pick in the 2010 draft out of Kentucky.

But McGee, a third-year, 7-foot center with incredible hops, leaped his way into the basketball public's consciousness during Saturday's NBA slam-dunk contest at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

McGee finished as runner-up to Los Angeles Clippers rookie Blake Griffin, who won after leaping over a car in his final dunk.

Griffin needed an impressive prop dunk to upstage McGee, who dunked two basketballs in two baskets at one time and then outdid himself by dunking three basketballs in one basket, including the third on a lob from Wall.

"He did two dunks that nobody in the world could probably do," Wizards coach Flip Saunders said before Tuesday's 113-96 loss to the Indiana Pacers at the Verizon Center. McGee had five points, eight rebounds and one blocked shot.

Suddenly, a player who entered Tuesday's game averaging 9.1 points and 7.5 rebounds had become a household name.

"I definitely have gotten a lot of attention from the dunk contest," McGee said.

He said his following on Twitter had grown to 5,000.

The 23-year-old McGee is still trying to find his way in the NBA, and he hopes the weekend performance can serve as a springboard.

"It was definitely a confidence booster and I am trying to come out here and stay aggressive," he said.

Saunders said McGee could go in one of two directions after his slamfest.

"We said to him that people now know who you are," Saunders said. "Do you want to be known as a guy who is a dunk guy or be known as a guy who can play?"

McGee would take the second choice, but he has a ways to go before it happens.

McGee entered the game ranked second in the NBA in blocked shots with 121, but Saunders said that total could be even higher.

"He would have a lot more blocks, but he leads the league in goaltending," Saunders said.

Right now, McGee, whose mother Pam was an Olympic gold medalist, a former all-American at Southern Cal and a former WNBA player, is getting by on athletic ability, with periods of brilliance matched by bouts of inconsistency.

One of his best career games came Nov. 23 in a 116-114 overtime win over the visiting Sixers. He had a season-high 24 points and a career-high 18 rebounds. This season, the Wizards are 2-1 against the Sixers, winning two overtime decisions at home and losing, 109-97, at the Wells Fargo Center on Jan. 5.

"I feel this year Philly might be our rival because we always seem to go into overtime and always play so aggressively against them," McGee said. "As basketball players, we love the competition against Philly and definitely have to come out hard."

Saunders hopes that McGee can take that attitude into every game. He said the McGee shouldn't look to wow the spectators on every trip to the basket, at least in games.

"You can get dunks with offensive rebounds, running the floor and having John [Wall] throw you lob passes," Saunders said. "Those are the dunks that count. They don't give you a 10 or 9.8, they just give you two."

Contact staff writer Marc Narducci at 856-779-3225 or mnarducci@phillynews.com.

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