- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 9, 2003

Every year, just about this time, Washington Wizards owner Abe Pollin announces his historically futile team is going to the playoffs. As a result, Pollin has come to refer to himself as the “nutty optimist.”

At an MCI Center news conference to introduce $65million point guard Gilbert Arenas yesterday, Pollin said it again. Only Arenas beat him to the punch.

“I want to thank everyone sitting here for giving me a chance and believing in my talent,” Arenas, the league’s reigning most improved player, said as he addressed a small gathering of season tickets holders, team employees and local media.

“This year is going to be very exciting. I can prove it, and I’m gonna do it. We’re going to make the playoffs. I’m going to work hard, my team is going to work hard, and we’re going to do everything to make the playoffs. That’s it.”

Arenas, 21, easily the biggest free agent to sign with the franchise in more than a decade, sparkled for Golden State last season when he averaged 18.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, 6.3 rebounds and 1.5 steals to help the Warriors improve from 21 wins to 38.

And everyone in Washington’s front office seems to believe the 6-foot-1 Arenas, who will team with 6-6 Jerry Stackhouse to give the Wizards one of the Eastern Conference’s most athletic backcourts, could become a superstar through a work ethic uncommon in most players his age.

“The thing I like about him is he is very confident and he is very good,” Wizards president of basketball operations Ernie Grunfeld said. “The confidence comes from hard work and putting in the hard work to gain that confidence. He’s seen that that formula works for him. Because of the time he’s put in the gym, his game has consequently improved. When you have players like that it rubs off on teammates.”

But will that work ethic be enough to reverse a trend that has seen the Wizards reach the playoffs just once since 1988? They have not won a series since they advanced to the second round of the 1982 playoffs.

“I’m like Gilbert,” Pollin said. “I say we’re going to go to the playoffs, too.”

The Wizards last reached the playoffs in 1997. The Wizards won 37 games in each of the last two seasons, when Michael Jordan suited up for the team.

Arenas will wear No.0, as he did at the University of Arizona. Arenas said he chose that number because it represents the number of minutes his detractors said he would play in college.

And when he slipped to the second round of the 2001 draft, Arenas used that as motivation to improve his game. He averaged 10.9 points and 3.7 rebounds as a rookie.

“I knew that I would get better if I worked at it and kept on working,” Arenas said. “That’s what I intend to do now. I’m not going to stop trying to get better every day.”

Just how motivated he can be was obvious in a story he related yesterday.

When he recently got off an airplane in the Washington area, Arenas said he spent most of the flight thumbing through a magazine that was previewing the upcoming NBA season. The magazine gave the Wizards a power rating of 69 on a scale from 1 to 100.

That prompted Arenas to head over to the practice court at MCI Center at 3a.m. He worked out until 5a.m., went home, then returned about three hours later to work out with some of his future teammates.

“I want to do everything in my power to change that [perception], too,” Arenas said. “I had the key, so I went there.”

On another note, the Wizards were offering season ticket holders partial refunds if they did not like the progress the team was making during the summer. Since then they have added Arenas and Grunfeld, signed Eddie Jordan to coach the team and selected small forward Jarvis Hayes with the 10th pick in the draft.

“I don’t expect anyone to ask for a refund,” Pollin said.

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