The Washington Wizards call an audible, and divert the team bus to a visit to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital

Out of nowhere, the once-downtrodden Washington Wizards have turned into one of the NBA’s feel-good stories. The team has won seven of 11 games since third-year guard John Wall returned from a knee injury, a mark that won’t seem impressive in comparison to the Oklahoma Cities or Miamis of the NBA world, but one that stands in stark contrast to the 4-28 start that preceded Wall’s emergence off the pine.

Faced with a recent two-game swoon, though, and a road game against the Memphis Grizzlies that will be scouted closely by those looking for a quick reaction to the team’s dealing involving Rudy Gay, the Wizards could have taken all of Thursday to utilize the Grizz’s home court for an extended and much-needed practice. Instead, team officials surprised the players by diverting the team bus to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, where the Wizards spent most of the afternoon cheering up patients, and learning about the amazing work the Hospital routinely does.

The Washington Post’s Michael Lee has the story:

Within minutes of departing the hotel, the Wizards players began to understand why they all needed to be on board. After making the initial left toward the arena, the bus diverted and took another left turn to a main street headed elsewhere. “I was like, ‘Where are we going?’ ” said Martell Webster, who was familiar with the drive to the arena.

A few minutes later, the Wizards realized that they were headed to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, where the players would visit with children battling traumatic diseases.

“It was a lot of kids, beautiful kids of all ages, babies, and to go in there and see them still have smiles on their faces, just to come see some of their idols or people that they look up to,” Webster said after the visit. “A lot of them are in extreme pain, going through chemotherapy. Some had brain surgery. They are coming out, smiling, hugging and taking pictures.”

Most players were unaware of the services that St. Jude provides as a nonprofit organization that treats children from all over the country and the globe. According to its website, the hospital treats nearly 8,000 patients yearly. No child is denied treatment because of financial reasons.

“It’s an amazing place. I got chills when the lady was telling us about it,” Garrett Temple said. “To put a smile on some kids faces, going to the hospital and being able to talk to some kids and understand you have a little bit of influence and make their day better than it was, was just a blessing to be able to do that.”

In NBA terms, the Wizards have had an impossible year. The team was mocked quite often during the time it spent fielding players like Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee, and the franchise made a desperate attempt at respectability in trading those players away in favor of assets that would eventually land veterans like Nene, Emeka Okafor, and Trevor Ariza. The basketball thinking wasn’t on point, but you could understand why the Wizards went all-in on a roster that could top out at a mediocre record. Anything would be better than watching a knuckleheaded brand of basketball.

With Wall out for the season’s first 32 games, though, the Wizards faltered badly. The team won four times in those 32 tries, and lost the first 12 games of its season. The offense remains the league’s worst, even though Wall has played expertly in his January return.

The defense, though, has shot straight to the top of the charts. Tops in the NBA over the last month, and overall up from 12th before Wall’s return to sixth in defensive efficiency in spite of that still-awful 11-33 record. Competitiveness in a Wizards uniform … it’s a new and wonderful thing.

The team isn’t making the playoffs, though, unless it finds a way to win about 32 of its next 39 games. So what counts the most, and what should have been in place years ago, is the bigger picture. And it’s hard to walk in and out of a place like St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital without gaining quite a bit of perspective.

Wizards wing Martell Webster probably had the best take. The father of three was quoted by Michael Lee:

“Every living moment, it should be cherished, because you never know when life could be snatched away. Seeing these kids definitely reminds me of how important it is to love your family and children and to love other children.”

School lets out and the kids come home in a few hours, mommies and daddies. Do good things with your weekend.

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