In Wednesday’s paper I have an exclusive with Gilbert Arenas, his first comments to the media since I caught up with him at the NBA Finals back in June. The story’s already online, so check it out.
Backing up all the reports from Flip Saunders, Caron Butler and the raving tweets of fellow Tim Grover clients Andre Iguodala and Quentin Richardson from earlier this summer, Arenas says he indeed is feeling strong, explosive, quick and as unstoppable as ever.
After conducting three interviews with Gil over the course of the last two weeks, I had so much material and and only a certain amount of space for the paper. So today’s story only scratches the surface, and there’s plenty of good stuff left over, so sit back, because I’m about to unload….
When asked if he feels like his legs are back to 100 percent, Arenas said, “I feel great. I’m never gonna be 100 percent. But I feel great. You can’t crumble up a piece of paper and then when you open it up again expect it to be smooth like it once was. But I know my legs are stronger than what they were, and now I don’t have to just rely on my speed.”
That explains all the strong takes and dunks Arenas has displayed both in those pickup games at Grover’s facility, the ProAm league up in Chicago and the appearances at Barry Farms and Hoop Magic in Chantilly. The fearless drives are something we didn’t see in the two games Arenas played in last season, that’s because Arenas’ muscles had yet to be ignited by Grover and his crew, and because his confidence in the leg still was lacking, and Arenas was admittedly leery about venturing into the paint.
“I was still scoring, but it was just in the back of my mind. That reckless abandon, I didn’t have it,” he says. “That fear, it was still in the back of my head. I wasn’t comfortable, and didn’t have power.”
So following the completion of the season, he went to Orlando to train with close friend and personal assistant John White. Arenas said he told white to get out the big training pads and instructed him to deal him a blow on every drive so he could re-acclimate himself to contact.
“He kept knocking me down again and again,” Arenas recalls. “I didn’t feel like my quad was firing. I was feeling good, but didn’t feel great. So then I called Tim.”
Once in Chicago, Arenas had the clamps put on him by Grover, and the trainer said that was the most challenging aspect of working with Arenas.
“The hardest thing with Gilbert was trying to slow him down,” Grover said when I talked to him Monday night. “Gil loves the court and loves working on his game, and working on moves and adding elements to his game. But once we were able to pull him away from that, the progress really started to show.”
Arenas described the early treatment at ATTACK Athletes as extremely painful. Grover’s staff did acupunctures, did another “scraping” type of treatment, Arenas said, which was designed to strip away all the dead tissue in his leg.
After about six weeks, Arenas had his first major breakthrough. When he first reported to Chicago, Arenas could only do a 75-pound leg-press with his left leg. Then came the day that Grover challenged him to try for more.
“It was the psyche,” Arenas said. “He had three plates on there, and I’m sitting there like, I don’t know who you think this is, I’m not Dwyane Wade. He told me, if you can get six good ones, and I ended up getting 10. Thats when I started playing, getting into the league. Started and my first game was 47 points, all layups and dunks.”
Arenas cautions, however, just because you have seen dunk-heavy footage of him, don’t expect the exact same thing come this season.
“In an NBA game, I’m not gonna try to dunk on everybody. Why try to dunk on you when I know I’m gonna get the foul if you jump? But if I’m getting into the lane and you’re gonna stand there and let me go up, I’ll turn it up a little more.”
On his mindset heading into the season:
Although training camp is now less than two weeks away and Arenas is focusing on keeping his emotions in check and maintaining a level-headed focus.
“Eager? Naw. Eager is what hindered me the last two years,” he said.
But then he added that he went so hard during the first rehabilitation process because he didn’t know any better, and probably would do the same thing all over again.
“I got a lot of flack for working too hard, but I only know one way to work,” says Agent Zero. “That’s work hard. It’s funny, I got flack for working too hard, and there are plenty of players in the league who don’t work hard enough. But instead of giving those players flack, you’re gonna bash the guy who’s working hard and doing everything he can to come back.
“It’s just how I was always taught. My dad would go out for auditions, and he’d be working on lines. He didn’t get parts, but I would always hear him going over lines, even at 3 o clock in the morning, trying to get better. He always taught me if whenever you’re resting, someone else is getting better. So, If I had to do it all over again, I’d do it the same way. I’ll break every bone, tear every muscle to play this game.”
Arenas said the last two years haven’t caused him to become bitter, or lose his drive at all. Instead he’s more determined than ever to prove the naysayers wrong, something that’s driven him since his pre-college days.
“What motivates me is I still see a lot of little kids wearing jerseys with the No. 0. And knowing that everyone has a story, and we don’t know how it plays out until it’s done. Part of mine, me getting injured, being put back to ground zero and having to work for everything. That’s why I picked zero in the first place. When everyone’s counting you out, and you have no strength, and you’re lying on the floor with them kicking you, you get back up again.”
On the Flip Saunders era:
Since being hired as coach of the Wizards, Saunders has been on a mission to build a strong relationship with Arenas. He talks to him in some form on a daily basis, and even went to Chicago to watch him train and play.
Says Arenas: “It’s a good feeling. His first day, he called and talked to me and I told him that’s the most any coach has talked to me at one time since high school. … It’s hard to say the grass is never greener on the other side, but for me, personally, it’s greener now.”
Saunders demands a lot of his point guards and sees them as an extension of him on the floor. And speaking of leadership, Arenas is aware that the perception of him is that he’s not a team leader.
But he says that’s not because he isn’t capable of leading or doesn’t want to lead. Quite the contrary. He is taking seriously the task at hand.
“Flip asked me to lead this team and I’m gonna be his leader,” Arenas said. “The last coach didn’t want me to be his leader, so I didn’t want to be.”
When it comes to Saunders’ system, Arenas looks forward to the increased freedom he will have in it. And he believes that his younger Wizards: Andray Blatche, Nick Young – will at last take the next step in their careers because of the design of Saunders’ offense. The coach reportedly carries a playbook of comparable size to that of an NFL team, but Arenas describes it as a more natural system than the Princeton offense, so learning the plays aren’t as challenging.
“You don’t have to think so much. You just play. The offense we used to run was a thinking man’s offense, and we had a lot of young players, so it didn’t work. The first year we won  games, and then after the whole team being in it for a year, we won 45 games, but then we lose our 2-guard in Larry [Hughes]. You can’t keep losing players, and then you get new guys in with that type of system. And every training camp, you gotta go back and teach.
“And we’ve got all these young players on the team, and your older guys in the offense get hurt, now you can’t play young players like Nick and Andray and expect them to do great in that scheme. You see they have obvious talent, but they can’t remember all the plays. Your I.Q. had to be great to understand the offense. Teams that run systems like that, Sacramento, New Jersey, our 49 win team, they were all older, experienced guys, but if you don’t have experienced guys, it’s a struggle to remember all the motion, all those cut-backs.”
On goal-setting and potential:
Caron Butler said it last month, now Antawn Jamison has proclaimed it, that the Wizards are a championship caliber team. Arenas has a simpler goal for his squad for now, however.
“The realistic goal for us is to be healthy as a team. Stay healthy. There’s always that. You can bring in new people, but if you’re not healthy, then you’re not going anywhere. We know what we have when we’re healthy. People say we haven’t gotten past 45 wins, but we could’ve if Antawn hadn’t gotten hurt, and Caron got hurt, and I missed the last 10 games of the [2006-07] season. So… being healthy is the [freakin’] Number 1.”
Arenas did say that the Wizards finally are headed back in the right direction, however. Aside from the injuries that have sidetracked them the last two years, Arenas – still bitter over the departure of Larry Hughes — says the revolving door at shooting guard is also to blame for Washington’s failure to advance past the first round of the playoffs.
“You can’t lose your starting 2 guard two years in a row and expect to get better,” says Arenas. “When Larry left, we didn’t get someone to replace him of Larry’s caliper of player. Jared [Jeffries] started at 2 guard and he was 7-feet tall and is one of the most versatile players in the league, so that was good, but then we lost him, and we didn’t replace him with size.
“But I feel like we’re going back in the right direction again. I feel like we’re back to 2004-05 now. Back at that caliber. My only concern is that we’re not as big as I would like. When you consider in basketball the teams that win championships, we’re not as big as them. Out of the 14 players on the team, we have only four legit bigs, as in 6-10 or bigger, and two of them are young.
Arenas wasn’t done yet. …
“Look at Cleveland. I don’t ever call it a rivalry. When you’re getting your [butt] whipped every year, it’s not a rivalry. Cleveland’s got size. They’ve got 6-9, 7-foot, 7-foot-2, 6-11, 6-8. That’s pretty big. The Lakers, they’ve got Bynum, Gasol, Odom, Walton, more size off the bench. You always have to have a big presence in the middle.”
So, we’ll see what kind of a presence fired up/contract driven Brendan Haywood, healthy Oberto, a year-older Blatche and McGee provide for the Wizards. Arenas says his skepticism in regards to his team’s championship chances isn’t sour grapes, just him being honest.
“I’m the only realistic person in Washington, D.C. Everybody gets mad at me when I tell the truth. Brendan gets hurt and I said it was gonna be a rough start, and nobody wanted to hear it. Everybody said, You’re throwing us under the bus. I ain’t throwing nobody under the bus, I’m just saying it, and what happened? We started 1-10.
“So, competing is different than contending. The Suns competed and won 65 games but never made it past the second round. You’ve gotta look past the postseason. But can we win a championship? I don’t know. Who knows? You never know in the NBA. Did anyone expect Cleveland to make it to the Finals the year I got hurt? Did anyone expect KG to get hurt and Boston not make it back to the Finals this year? You just never now, because so much hinges on health. Boston, every team that we play against might get hurt and we might get there.”
Having said all that about the changes at shooting guard, Arenas says he still has the utmost confidence in DeShawn Stevenson, who also is coming off of injury. The Wizards added to the backcourt with the additions of Mike Miller and Randy Foye, but Arenas expects Stevenson to beat out both Miller, Foye and Young to retain his starting job.
“The warrior’s always gonna win,” Arenas declares. “If you can’t beat out our best defensive guy, then you’re not gonna play. Until they take it from DeShawn, they’re not going to start. Doesn’t matter that he’s not a scoring shooting guard. He’s our Derek Fisher, our Bruce Bowen, the guy who gets down and dirty. He’s there as the equalizer. And I can promise you this, if any of those three are going after his job and have to match up with him, he’s gonna battle them and they’re not gonna look good trying to score on him.”
So there you have it, the rest of Gilbert Arenas on Gilbert Arenas, and just about everything else Wizards.
— Mike Jones