Coach is sure his young team is ready for next step

Randy Wittman doesn't harbor a belief that the Wizards are better than people think. The changes and improvements the team underwent last year after he took over as interim coach during the season and that took place in the offseason are no secret.

In his first season without the interim tag, the task is to build on that process and convince his players what it will take to continue to get better.

"I don't want to surprise anybody," Wittman said. "I just want us to believe in ourselves. That's what we have to do. We have to believe we can do this, that we can make that next step. But I'm not worried about surprising or sneaking up on anybody else. I think as the year went on last year, I think teams saw the change in us."

Wittman didn't like the situation but always wanted the chance to be in charge. He boosted his chances when the Wizards reeled off eight wins in their final 10 games, including the last six in a row, to finish 20-46. The addition of Nene in the post after a deadline trade was crucial, as was the improvement of second-year players John Wall and Kevin Seraphin. Veterans (Emeka Okafor, Trevor Ariza, Martell Webster) and a top draft pick (Bradley Beal) have since been added, but Wittman's philosophy hasn't changed.

"It ain't going to change," Witt?man said. "We're going to be an uptempo team with the ability to play inside out. I think all of our bigs have the ability to get up and down the floor. ... As long as we have John here, we have to take advantage. You know, I'm a firm believer in fitting what I want to the talent I have instead of sometimes the other way around."

The locker room also has been purged of the disruptive presences of Andray Blatche, JaVale McGee and Nick Young.

"They're not a part of this" is the closest Wittman would come to acknowledging the difference their absence makes.

"I like our mixture of players with this team," he said. "I think we have some good blue-collar guys that aren't going to turn away when things get tough."

Wittman also made two key additions to his coaching staff, longtime San Antonio assistant Don Newman and former NBA champion Jerry Sichting.

"I'm really one that wants great people around him," Wittman said. "I'm not intimidated by that. I think that only makes me be better by being challenged by the staff around me. That's kind of what I wanted to do."

When training camp opens at George Mason University on Tuesday, he will do the same to his players in his self-professed old-school style.

"This team hasn't created any highlights is the way that I look at it," Wittman said. "Now it's up to us as a group. Let's create some highlights that maybe next year at this time I can have a highlight film for them to show to kick off training camp."