February 12, 2007

What's Eating Gilbert Arenas?

"Gilbert is in the building," I overhear two reporters say before the Georgetown-West Virginai game so I stroll over from the media room to the Wizards' locker room. There's a blinking red security box and the door is locked. I hear the sound of a bouncing ball coming from down the hall. It's coming from a door marked "Wizards Practice Facility." I turn the knob and...I'm in.

Hoops Odyssey is here at the Verizon Center in DC tonight for college hoops but when the second-leading falls in your lap, you gotta audible on the fly. At the far end of the practice court is Arenas, in a black tank top and black Adidas shorts, shooting three after three after three from the corner. The 6-3 shooting guard and his rebounder glance over at me. I wave awkwardly and sit down inconspicuously at the other end of the court. As Gilbert nails his eighth-straight trey, my mind is racing about how I can discreetly film this scene.

"Um," I say during a long rebound, walking over to their side of the court, "is it cool if I just film you shooting for a minute." Arenas looks pained. "Sorry, man. I really don't like people filming when I'm off." I understand. "Do you mind if I just stay and watch?" I ask, leaning against a near wall fifteen feet away. Gilbert shrugs, shoots and drains another three.

I can hear the crowd of 14,203 erupting for the featured game and I think I'm supposed to interview an astronaut or something. WWGD (What Would Gilbert Do)? I ask myself.

"Who's in the dunk contest this year?" Agent Zero asks his rebounder, who appears to be more a friend than a ballboy. "Dwight Howard," says a 30ish white guy in an orange t-shirt, "Gerald Green, Tyrus Thomas..." I spot an opening. "Did you hear what Thomas said about the dunk contest?" I ask hesitantly. Arenas stops shooting and looks over to me, waiting for my reply. I explain how Thomas said he was only in it for the money and that the NBA was going to fine him. "Ouch. That's going to hurt him come contract time," says Arenas. "When he goes to sign that deal, everyone's going to know he's only about the money."

Another ball caroms long off the rim in my direction. The rebounder starts to chase it but I wave him off, and feed it to Gilbert, who nails the three -- my first NBA assist. "How many is that," Gilbert asks the rebounder who replies, "46." "How many do you shoot," I ask. "Until I make 100 at each spot." says the Wizards guard. He turns back to his rebounder and asks, "Was that really 46 or did you just pull that number out of the air?" The rebounder laughs. "I've been counting," he says, "It is 46 but I've been known to make up a number."

This Georgetown student can't get much more excited about his Hoyas.

"How come stars still do the three-point contest but they're too cool for the dunk contest?" I ask. Gilbert thinks about the question. "When I was young," he says, "I remember being so into the dunk contest. But the stars now -- guys like LeBron, Wade, -- they're not real creative dunkers." He launches a three. "Do you know who I'd like to see in the dunk contest again?," he asks. "Vince Carter--that guy can fly." Fat chance, I tell him. "Why don't people like him more?" I explain that the knock on Carter is that he's not a max-effort guy. "Yeah," says Gilbert chuckling, "I saw him at the end of an offseason once, and he told me he hadn't worked out one day."

"How many guys in the NBA are shooting jumpers like this on their off night?" I ask during a break in the shooting. "None," reply Arenas and the rebounder in unison. Arenas is knocking down about two-thirds of his threes but he's not completely concentrating. He'll often stop to make a point or ask a basketball question. I ask Arenas about his recent fifty point guarantee against Portland. "I knew after I said that that they'd double (team) me," he says "so I came out not too aggressive and got my teammates involved. It was part of my plan. But when we go up to their place, they won't be expecting it, and they won't double me. That's when I'm really planning on dropping 50."

Over the next half an hour, as Gilbert shoots treys from just the corner and the elbow extended, the three of us shoot the basket-bull, a conversation not much different than one in a bar over cracking peanut shells. The topic eventually shifts to LeBron. The rebounder mentions that the Cavs tried to acquire Corey Maguette. "The guy LeBron needs is Sam Cassell," says Arenas, "He needs someone who wants to take the big shots at the end of the game." I interject that LeBron would never stand for that -- it would kill his ego. "LeBron would much rather have Cassell take the final shot," says Arenas. "People don't realize that LeBron doesn't want it."

I try to bait Arenas by telling him what JJ Redick told the Odyssey in response to Arenas' recent commentsabout Duke, and follow it up by asking if he's surprised how much Redick's struggled in the NBA. He doesn't take it. "With that jump shot he should be able to run pick and rolls all day," he says, "He'll never be Reggie Miller but he should be OK -- he just needs time to adjust. When I first came in the league, it took me awhile. When we played against Adam Morrison in the preseason, this year, he was awful. He was just firing shots up with no idea what he was doing. Now he can play."

I ask if he's heard Dwyane Wade's recent diss of Nowitski, saying Dirk not stepping up was the reason the Mavs lost in the Finals. He has. "(Wade) doesn't talk a lot so when he does, it carries more weight. He must've really meant it. Hey," he asks us, "if Dallas had won that series, who would've been the (series) MVP?" "Nowitski," I tell him. "Not Jason Terry?" he asks of his Arizona boy. "He hit all the big shots." A ball comes my way. I fire it to Arenas who nails the three. "I think you've gotta give it to Terry."

After about thirty minutes, Arenas nails his two hundredth three-pointer. He zips up his windbreaker and the three of us cruise out of the practice facility. In the media room, after Georgetown's 71-53 win, the same reporter that told me that Gilbert was in the building, is complaining about how he's been unable to find Arenas to get him to publically comment on his Blazers game guarantee. "I'll check his blog," the reporter says, typing in the url. "Nope, nothing there."

Only a few doors down the hall, Agent Zero slips out a back door of the Verizon Center unnoticed.

Notes On A Scorecard

Well Matt was busy trading war stories with my favorite player, I was watching the actual game, which going into, was actual a pretty solid matchup.

The G-town-WVI was touted as an important Big East game. The 16th ranked Hoyas had won eight straight and the 22nd-ranked Mountaineers were coming off a victory over UCLA. Both teams were supposed to be en fuego, but only Georgetown showed up to play.

With a 17-0 run midway through the first half, the Hoyas took control of the game and spent the next thirty minutes toying. By the time the buzzer sounded Roy Hibbert, the big seven-footer for Georgetown, had got himself 20 points - 12 of them from the line - and helped his team outrebound the Mountaineer's 35-19. But it was the Hoyas' perimeter players that took the game over. West Virginia's trademark defense couldn't stop the penetration or track down all the Georgetown players and the Hoyas ended up shooting 58 percent from the field. With Pitt's loss to Louisville, John Thompson III's program is on the up and up and a half game out of first place in the Big East.

One more thing: Here's another little story that I was going to write until we ran into Gilbert Arenas. Eric Cusimano is a male freshman cheerleader at Georgetown. Not so special. Eric Cusimano is the ONLY male freshman cheerleader at Georgetown. Yup, pretty special. Eric spends his days surrounded by fourteen female cheerleaders. Apparently, Georgetown hadn't had a male cheerleader for five years until Eric showed up, but let me tell you, he's not complaining to much. "I have to share a lockerroom with the mascot," Cusimano says. "But it's been pretty awesome. How could you not want to be courtside at every basketball game surrounded by girls?"

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Posted by Matt Waxman at 11:50 PM | Comment