WASHINGTON -- Washington Wizards center Jahidi White had just wheeled in the lane and backed his 290-pound body against Michael Smith, who was sent sprawling onto the practice court at MCI Center.
"Did he foul him?" first-year coach Gar Heard asked his players.
Silence, broken eventually by a few snickers.
He then turned to Laron Profit.
"Was that a foul?" Heard asked Profit, who had been watching practice at the time.
No sooner did Profit shake his head than Heard sent the 6-foot-4 guard from Maryland on his way for a good-natured lap up and down the court. Call it a rookie mistake.
It is all part of the education Profit has received in the past three weeks, as he tries to claim a spot on the team's 12-man roster. It's also part of Profit's transformation from college standout to NBA understudy.
A big-name recruit at a small-town high school in Camden, Del., a third-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference player in College Park the past three seasons, Profit is trying to get the last of the team's five backcourt spots.
Whether Profit beats out James Collins and Reggie Jordan won't be decided until the end of the exhibition season, which continues tonight when the Wizards play the Cleveland Cavaliers at Baltimore Arena in a 7 o'clock game.
"I feel good," Profit said after practice Wednesday. "I'm not one for predictions, but when I go home at night, I know I can sleep well because I've given my maximum effort."
It has been an interesting few months since Profit's college career ended with a disappointing loss to St. John's in the Sweet 16s of the NCAA tournament.
Drafted in the second round by the Orlando Magic -- the 38th player taken overall -- Profit was traded to the Wizards last month for a conditional second-round pick.
Profit was excited by the trade, and not just because it meant he was coming back to the area that was his home for the past four years. It meant going to a team with fewer guards.
"When I got drafted by Orlando, they had about six guards," recalled Profit. "Then they traded Penny [Hardaway] and Nick [Anderson], and they seemed to have about 10 to 12 guards. I thought my chances were a lot better here."
With shooting guard Mitch Richmond out much of the preseason with a hamstring injury and with point guard Rod Strickland kept home from Thursday's exhibition game in Cleveland for disciplinary reasons, Profit has received more than a long look in practice and in the team's two exhibition games.
Profit scored nine points in nine minutes of Washington's comeback win over the Los Angeles Lakers last week, and was on the court as the Wizards overcame a 17-point deficit. He scored four points, with four rebounds and two turnovers, in a loss to the Cavaliers.
Those who watched him at Maryland have been surprised to see Profit getting time at the point, a position he played in leading Caesar Rodney High to a state championship when he was a senior.
"I think there are a lot of things people don't know about my game," Profit said. "In college, I wasn't asked to do a lot of ball-handling. I'm a lot better shooting than people think. You don't score as many points as I did without being able to shoot."
Said Heard, who never saw Profit play in college: "He has played well. We're trying to get him to do the things he's capable of doing. He's such a raw talent. You've got to curb that talent. He wants to take the ball to the hole every time he gets it. We don't need him to do that with this team."
What interested the Wizards wasn't Profit's ability to make jump shots, but to stay in opposing player's faces. Often used as a defensive stopper by Maryland coach Gary Williams, Profit will likely make the pros because of his ability to defend in the open court.
The NBA's new rule changes -- including the no-hand-check rule above the foul line extended -- will make more teams play a running, pressing style that is basically Profit's game. "He's as quick as anybody at his size," Williams said recently. "He's a very good defensive player."
Profit said he still isn't sure how he slipped to the middle of the second round -- "I will never believe that there are 37 players better than me," he said -- but is looking forward to an opportunity to prove those who passed on him wrong. They include his current employers, who took Penn State center Calvin Booth with the 35th pick.
At Maryland, Profit often showed moments of brilliance before disappearing, sometimes for long stretches. Because he came here with few expectations, Profit has played with more abandon, albeit recklessly at times. Told that Heard wants him to calm down, Profit smiled.
"Especially when I'm playing the point," he said. "They're trying to teach me when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em."
With a little more than a week before final cuts are made, Heard is not playing his hand, either.
"It's not just the fifth guard spot; it's a spot on the team," he said. "No matter what happens, I won't be afraid to recommend any one of these guys to another team. They can all play at this level."
Opponent: Cleveland Cavaliers
Site: Baltimore Arena
Time: 7 Tickets: Still available. Exhibition game prices: $10 to $50.