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The Daily Wildcat

 

Column: Jason Terry is the perfect example of a Wildcat

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File / The Daily Wildcat

Former Arizona men’s basketball guard Jason Terry (31) goes to the rim during Arizona’s 69-61 victory over Utah on Dec. 7, 1996 at the John R. Wooden Classic at The Pond in Anaheim, Calif. Terry’s jersey will be retired at halftime on Thursday’s game against USC.

Jason Terry’s patience paid off as a college player, and now a good thing is coming to him after a long wait.

Almost 16 years after he left the UA, Terry’s No. 31 jersey will be raised to McKale Center’s rafters as his jersey is retired. Terry was the sixth man on the 1997 National Championship team and won National Player of the Year in 1999.

When asked, “Why is now the right time to retire Jason Terry’s jersey?” Arizona head coach Sean Miller said, “This is the first time we’ve been allowed to,” with a smile. 

Wildcats who win a National Player of the Year award are eligible to have their jerseys retired. Sean Elliott (32), Steve Kerr (25), Mike Bibby (10) and Jason Gardner (22) are the other Wildcats to have their jerseys retired.

“I am extremely blessed and honored to have my jersey retired,” Terry said in a press release. “It is not only a tribute to what I accomplished as a student-athlete at [the] UA, but [also] to all the people who helped me on my journey.”

Terry accepted $11,500 from agents during his time at the UA, which caused the Wildcats to vacate their 1999 NCAA tournament appearance. Terry repaid the UA the $45,363 it lost for not playing in the tournament.

UA President Ann Weaver Hart requested that Terry’s jersey be retired, and the Pac-12 Conference presidents and chancellors approved it.

“Jason’s success epitomizes the [UA’s] ‘Bear Down’ culture and the caliber of our alumni,” Hart said in a press release.

Terry averaged 21.9 points, 5.5 assists and 2.8 steals per game as a senior and won National Player of the Year awards from Sports Illustrated and CBS.

“Jason Terry represents all of the qualities that you would really want in a player,” Miller said.

Terry averaged 10.6 points, 4.4 assists and 2.5 steals per game for the national champions and helped the UA go 17-1 in Pac-10 play in 1998.

Terry was known by his trademark long “CATS” socks at the UA and for his superstitions. He slept in his uniforms before games, a tradition he started before the 1997 National Championship game. 

The night before the title game, Terry and his roommate Mike Bibby were so excited they couldn’t sleep.

“We were like: ‘Let’s just get ready for this game. Let’s get the uniform on. We’re going to be ready,’” Terry said to The New York Times. “And we got to the game and ended up winning, so it’s something I kept doing.”

Miller said he was amazed at how Terry remade himself from a sixth man to the National Player of the Year. 

“That shows a lot about how hard he works at the game, what a great competitor he is and what a talented player he was at the U of A,” Miller said.

Terry holds the UA record for steals (245), is fourth in school history in 3-point field goals (193), eighth in assists (493) and 18th in scoring (1,461).

“J.T. wasn’t a starter, but he was a finisher,” former Arizona head coach Lute Olson said in 1997. “I can’t think of a game that he wasn’t in there at the finish.”

Terry is in his 16th season in the NBA after being picked 10th overall by the Atlanta Hawks in 1999. He won the NBA Sixth Man of the Year award in 2009 and won the NBA Finals in 2011.

The Seattle native was also the first Wildcat to score 1,000 points and record 200 steals in his career.

“You could make the argument that nobody did it any better at Arizona than him,” Miller said.

Terry’s tale of patience inspires even today.

“When I was getting put in and out of the starting line up, [UA coaches] were telling me the exact same thing, that Jason Terry got to the NBA and he did it all by being the sixth man,” UA guard Gabe York said. “He made a career out of being the sixth man, and there’s nothing wrong with coming off of the bench.”

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Follow James Kelley on Twitter.

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