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Arenas a Reluctant Captain in Washington

October 16, 2005|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — When Washington Wizard Coach Eddie Jordan first approached Gilbert Arenas about being a team captain, Arenas was reluctant.

"I just don't like the name 'captain.' Ever since I was little," Arenas said. "I guess I'm a doer. I just do me. I don't like to tell anybody else what to do."

Furthermore, Arenas remembered that last season's captains -- Larry Hughes, Antawn Jamison and Etan Thomas -- appeared to be jinxed.

"When he said 'captain,' I was like, 'OK, Larry got hurt last year, Antawn got hurt last year and Etan got hurt last year,' " Arenas said. "I don't think I like that captain thing too much."

Finally, Jordan was taken aback when Arenas said: "Coach, sometimes I don't believe the things that I say. I don't know if these guys believe it."

Jordan should have expected as much. After all, it was the coach who coined the term "Gilbertology" last year to describe the mercurial point guard whose words and deeds seem at times to come from another planet. Jordan reconsidered his decision, but only for a few days. He offered Arenas a captaincy anyway, and Arenas accepted without truly being convinced, at 23, that he's qualified for the job.

"I'm still learning," Arenas said. "A leader is that person who knows everything, who's been experienced. I don't know if I'm that experienced to teach anybody yet. I'm still taking lessons from somebody like Chucky [Atkins], somebody like Antonio [Daniels], because they've been in the league more than me."

So now Arenas has "captain" next to his name to go along with "All-Star," having been named a first-time selection for the Eastern Conference last season. "MVP" is still down the road, but considered within Arenas' grasp because of his talent and because of two other phrases that now describe him: "more mature" and "workaholic."

The maturity surfaced last season, when Arenas cut down his on-court tantrums and didn't miss any practices because he was, say, playing pool -- which happened in January 2004. Although he wasn't a captain, Arenas was a leader in many ways last season -- leading his team in scoring, assists, minutes and passion.

"It's night and day from one year to the next year," Jordan said. "He's so very crucial to our success.... It was a pleasant surprise how much he matured and how well he played for us."

Few players devote more to their craft than Arenas. His late-night practice sessions are well-known, but he also says he didn't take a vacation this off-season and instead reviewed in detail tapes from nearly every Wizard game.

"I'm a taper," Arenas said. "I'll usually watch how I can beat my defender, what my defender is lacking and what is he scared of. I think I took a little more 3s than I usually want to take last year, so I'm not going to be open to just sitting there taking jump shots this year."

He also noticed a more disturbing habit. On defense, he had become a "ball-watcher" who didn't concentrate on guarding his own man. The Wizards got away with it because fellow guard Hughes was such a good defender, but Hughes left over the summer to join Cleveland as a free agent. Arenas now will have to play some serious defense if the Wizards are to remain a playoff team.

"In this league, it's about growing up," Arenas said. "That's one of the areas I've got to grow up in. Everyone knows I can score. Everyone knows I can do all these great things, but if you want to be an MVP in this league, you've got to do everything. I've just got to become a better defensive player."

Arenas said he's improved his diet and lost seven pounds, although he's found it hard to eliminate the bedtime sweets -- "As soon as 10, 11 o'clock hits, I just want to cram it all in" -- and he claims no feeling of burnout from his around-the-clock devotion to basketball.

"We have this job, most players, four years," Arenas said. "If you're lucky, you can squeeze out a 10-year career. After that, you have the rest of your life to do whatever you want. I'd rather devote my time when I have it, and after I'm done with this, there are other things in life and I can forget about basketball. Once I'm done I don't want to sit around here and linger around and coach or try to get into the media stuff. When I'm done with the NBA, I just want to be done with it."

Arenas also offered his own take on Gilbertology. Yes, he wears his heart on his sleeve and says some off-the-wall things -- he once claimed he flipped a coin to decide which team's offer to accept in free agency -- but he comes across as good-natured and sincere. He offers a counterbalance to players who take themselves too seriously and, in Arenas' words, "think they made the game."

"Well, you didn't make it," Arenas said. "There were people here before you. We're just passing through like everybody else. You might as well have fun with everyone you can, media, fans, and they'll love you back."

Of course, Arenas' idea of fun is studying film instead of taking a vacation. And while he doesn't think he can remake the game of basketball, he thinks he can be the game's best player. He's been proving people wrong for years -- he wears jersey No. 0 because that was supposed to be his playing time at Arizona, and he wasn't drafted in the NBA until the second round -- but now the goals are becoming loftier.

"If you're really committed to basketball, if you're really committed to your job, you want to be the best at it, and that's what I want to do," Arenas said. "I want to be the best at it, and right now I'm not the best at my craft. I've got to do what it takes to be the best."

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