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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Catching up with Agent Zero

    Former Wildcat and current Wizard guard Gilbert Arenas defends two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash in Washingtons 144-139 overtime victory Dec. 22 at Phoenix. Although Arenas has not earned MVP credentials yet, as a two-time All-Star and one of the better players in the league he is quickly putting himself in the conversation of best ever former Wildcat in the NBA.
    Former Wildcat and current Wizard guard Gilbert Arenas defends two-time NBA MVP Steve Nash in Washington’s 144-139 overtime victory Dec. 22 at Phoenix. Although Arenas has not earned MVP credentials yet, as a two-time All-Star and one of the better players in the league he is quickly putting himself in the conversation of best ever former Wildcat in the NBA.

    Gilbert the Great

    PHOENIX – With his team trailing by three in the waning seconds, the NBA’s newest superstar delivered, driving by athletic defender Shawn Marion, drawing a foul and flipping up an off-balance 12-footer that found the net to send the game into overtime.

    Then former Wildcat Gilbert Arenas put the kiss of death on the Suns’ NBA season-high 15-game winning streak, banking in a 27-foot 3-pointer in overtime to give him 54 points and the Wizards a five-point lead with 30 seconds left in an eventual 144-139 victory Dec. 22 in Phoenix.

    “”When you’re on fire you’re on fire,”” Arenas said in the Washington locker room after hitting 21-of-37 shots (56.8 percent), including 6-of-12 on 3-pointers.

    Arenas, who ranks second in the NBA – averaging 30.2 points per game behind Denver’s suspended Carmelo Anthony – has been on fire a lot lately.

    The performance against the Suns came just six days after Arenas, a combo guard, scorched Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers for an NBA season-high 60 points, both of which led to consecutive Eastern Conference Player of the Week awards for the weeks of Dec. 4-10 and 11-17 and is a feat done by only five other players in the past 30 years, Bryant and Michael Jordan among them.

    Then Monday he scored 51 points and hit a game-winning 3 to beat Utah, just like the shot he nailed to take down Milwaukee Jan. 3.

    Coming from a program like Arizona, aka Point Guard U, it’s no surprise to see a player succeed at the next level. But no Wildcat has averaged 30 points in a season or made an All-NBA First Team. Arenas is on the verge of that if he keeps up this level of play.

    “”I think he’s obviously one of the best – if not the best – former Wildcats in the NBA (and) probably one of the top five players in the NBA right now,”” said UA assistant coach Josh Pastner, who was on the team with Arenas for one season. “”His scoring ability, his overall game and skill level and skill set is extremely high.””

    Playing with ‘a chip on his shoulder’

    Despite a silky smooth jump shot and quickness to blow by nearly any NBA defender, perhaps Arenas’ most important attribute in becoming a star is his motivation when doubted.

    He wore No. 0 at Arizona because that’s how many minutes he was expected to play. He was drafted in the second round of the NBA Draft in 2001; after two years the Golden State Warriors let him get away to Washington.

    “”He’s the type of personality that has to have a chip on his shoulder,”” said Antawn Jamison, who has played with Arenas for three years in Washington and his first two with the Warriors. “”There’s nothing wrong with that.

    “”I think Gilbert’s one of those guys who wants to be the best. I bet he felt a little dissed (being) chosen in the second round, and that’s made him prove what he needs to be, the type of player that he is today, and he’s evolved into one of the best basketball players in the league.””

    Recently he was fueled by a snub from the Team USA squad that competed at this summer’s FIBA World Championship, being sent home in part due to a groin injury, although Arenas thought he should have made the roster. He vowed to score 100 points on the squads of Team USA assistants Mike D’Antoni of the Suns and Nate McMillan of the Portland Trail Blazers, before later taking the comment back.

    After dropping 54 on the Suns, he said it had nothing to do with his previous comments, and said he looked over at the Phoenix bench after nailing a 37-footer at the end of the first quarter only because they were calling for a foul with a foul to give.

    But he followed those comments by saying he’s a little ahead of the game and needs 46 more when the Suns play at Washington Tuesday.

    “”I knew I had to live up to what I said with the 50 points,”” Arenas said.

    Having answered many of his doubters throughout his career, Arenas now just wants to get better.

    “”I have a reputation of getting better each year, and that’s what I tend to do, get better in each category,”” Arenas said. “”I guess everybody in the East now, I just want to be the best of them all, and now it’s just try to get that ring. I’ve done everything I can possibly do, and now I want a ring.””

    In helping the Wizards to a 21-16 record, the double teams Arenas commands open his teammates for easy opportunities.

    “”It makes my job easy,”” said Jamison, who’s averaging 19.0 points per game. “”He starts getting double teams, so I just spot up in the corner and get all the open jumpers in the world.

    “”It’s not only myself, but a lot of these guys wind up (open), but the most important thing is the chemistry that we have. If we play as a team it’s really going to help.””

    One clavicle away from a title

    Arenas entered the NBA Draft after his sophomore season, but if he could do it all over again and knew his career would end up the same way, he said he would stay all four years.

    Before he declared in April 2001, the Wildcats had just lost to Duke in the National Championship game. Arenas saw three underclassmen on that squad, forwards Richard Jefferson and Michael Wright and guard Jason Gardner, declare for the NBA Draft. Senior Loren Woods was on his way to the NBA as well, and Arenas didn’t want to come back without them. Gardner was the only one of the five starters to come back, but Arenas had already made up his mind.
    “”I had a wonderful time in school, especially with the guys you’re there with,”” Arenas said, before naming eight of his teammates, including the aforementioned four players and eventual NBA player Luke Walton. “”Those were great guys. We had fun, we had fun winning, we had fun playing, we had fun going to school together.””

    Despite being lightly recruited out of Van Nuys, Calif., near Los Angeles, Arenas led the Wildcats into the 2001 National Championship game by winning the Midwest Regional’s Most Outstanding Player honor while averaging 14.4 points per game in the tournament.

    In the Wildcats’ 80-61 Final Four win over Michigan State, Arenas set what was then an NCAA semifinal record with six steals. But one steal attempt could have cost Arizona its second national championship, which it lost two nights later to Duke, 82-72.

    On the play, Arenas partially separated his clavicle to the extent that he could barely lift his hand above his shoulder. Playing with the injury, Arenas was limited, causing UA head coach Lute Olson to later say that he feels like the Wildcats would have won the national championship had Arenas not gotten hurt.
    “”When I watch Duke play, I’m like, ‘Ah, oh man, I hate them so bad,’ just because of that game,”” Arenas said. “”It’s one of them you wish you could take back, like, ‘Man, I wish I didn’t go for that steal against Michigan State.'””

    Ironically, forward Shane Battier, Duke’s star in 2001 but not as accomplished an NBA player as Arenas, made the World Championship squad coached by Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski.

    Growing up

    In college and earlier in his NBA career, Arenas was called immature.

    Arenas is a noted prankster, both in college and the pros, but especially when he was a 17-year-old UA freshman.

    Arenas said his all-time favorite prank occurred that year when fellow freshman and roommate Gardner was taking a shower in Navajo-Pinal Residence Hall, where they lived.

    There was a rule that stated that anyone caught in the dorm when the fire alarm went off got what Arenas said was around a $1,500 fine from the fire marshal. Gardner was showering one day when Arenas took the guard’s clothes out of the bathroom, locked the door and set off the fire alarm.

    “”So he had to go outside or he was going to get caught,”” Arenas said. “”It was just hilarious. You could just see him walking around, holding himself, and it was just hilarious.””

    And Olson’s reaction to the prank?

    “”Oh he didn’t find out,”” Arenas said. “”Most of my stuff Lute didn’t find out (about), but when he did, Whoo! I was in the doghouse.””

    Washington head coach Eddie Jordan puts his behavior under the category of “”Gilbertology,”” behavior that includes showers in full uniform during halftime, training his pit bulls on treadmills, going to the gym at all hours of the night and even getting his house put at a higher altitude so he won’t get tired late in games.

    After Arenas’ 54-point effort against the Suns, Wizard forward Caron Butler said, “”I’m going to stop over there and sit in it for a couple hours, and hopefully it helps me,”” because Arenas was so energetic.

    Now the “”quirky”” Arenas has matured, Pastner and Jamison said. Pastner said the maturation has come with age, while Jamison said much of the development has been in terms of basketball.

    “”We all know he’s a gym rat,”” Jamison said. “”He’s always working on his weaknesses and things like that, and he’s pretty much developed himself into one of the biggest stars in the league, so his maturity comes forth in his basketball skills and acted in him becoming a leader too, which is something that’s definitely grown from his time at Golden State.””

    His growth can be seen in his relationship with a current Wildcat, senior point guard Mustafa Shakur.

    When Shakur considered entering last summer’s NBA Draft after his junior year, Arenas talked to him over the summer and told him to return for his senior season. He also promised to work out with him and show him the “”tricks of the trade”” at the end of their seasons this year.

    “”It was big, just Gilbert letting me understand his situation and what happened and mine also,”” Shakur said. “”He understands what I can do. Just having an older guy mentor that’s in the league to get advice (helps).

    “”When I needed that advice, he really gave me some great advice.””

    Arenas almost wasn’t a part of the Wildcat family. He was not heavily recruited, and at first he wasn’t a big part of Arizona’s plans.

    Jimmy Haywood, a 6-foot-3 guard from Seattle, had verbally committed to the Wildcats to complement Gardner in the backcourt. But Haywood wanted to take a visit to look elsewhere and eventually de-committed, choosing Oregon State instead.

    Then “”we took Gil, and the rest is history,”” Pastner said.

    History says that Haywood became a solid player at Oregon State, averaging 10.7 points and 3.1 rebounds while starting all 28 games as a senior and finishing fifth at the time in career 3-pointers for the Beavers.

    But that’s a far cry from what Arenas did at Arizona and what he has become.

    The best Wildcat ever?

    Nowadays Arenas is a two-time – soon to be three-time – All-Star lighting up the NBA. Playing the school’s famed position, could this quirky prankster be the best Wildcat ever?

    “”If you look at any guard that came from Lute, when they get to this level (they’re) just great pros,”” Arenas said. “”They dominate, they do well, anybody. Any guard that came from there, they do well in this league.””

    But Arenas more than does well. He is a bonafide superstar and go-to player, and as Pastner said, possibly one of the top five players in the league.

    The Arizona program has rolled out the likes of Steve Kerr, Sean Elliott, Mike Bibby, Jason Terry and Jefferson. They’ve won championships, been to All-Star games and even played for their country.

    Although it remains to be seen if Arenas will one day be seen as the school’s top basketball alumnus, according to his coach, Arenas has bigger goals.

    “”He wants to win,”” Jordan said. “”He wants to show he’s going to be one of the greatest of all time.””

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