- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Gilbert Arenas expressed a strong dose of humility in his question-and-answer session with the local media yesterday, just after running the stairs on the top tier of Abe Pollin’s edifice in Tony Cheng’s neighborhood.

“I’ll do whatever [the U.S. basketball coaches] want,” Arenas said. “I’ll dive on the floor and run into walls, anything, just to make the team.”

Arenas heads to Las Vegas next week to train with the U.S. team in preparation for the world championship in Japan next month.

Arenas is willing to subjugate his ego in order to secure a spot on the final roster.

He is not interested in being the team’s leading scorer or cementing his place among the NBA’s elite players. He is looking to provide whatever coach Mike Krzyzewski deems necessary. He even could find value in being a practice player.

“I wouldn’t mind that, so long as I have on the jersey,” Arenas said.

The red, white and blue is seeking atonement of sorts in international competition after being embarrassed in the world championship in 2002 and the Athens Games in 2004.

These hastily conceived NBA units were found lacking against a good number of suspects, which has prompted USA Basketball to revamp its previously held tenets of rolling out the ball for a few days and talking a good game.

This is an attempt to be serious against the international basketball community that no longer swoons in awe around the top American players, as was the case at the Barcelona Games in 1992, when the United States sent its one and only Dream Team to the Olympics.

That awe has been replaced by a call to be as strong as the United States in basketball. Or stronger.

The call has been answered in persuasive fashion.

Fourteen years ago, most would have thought it preposterous that a nondescript Canadian would be the two-time MVP of the NBA and that a 7-foot German would pose the most difficult matchup problems in the game’s modern era.

Most would have laughed at the idea of a four-time All-Star from China. And laughed even harder if the player was 7-foot-5. Seven-footers in China? They do not even grow to 6-0 there, right?

And most would have dismissed the notion of international players ever landing so many spots on NBA rosters.

The Wizards recently drafted two players with tongue-twisting names, and no one thought it out of the ordinary because of the deluge of international players in recent years.

Every exceedingly tall European is the next Dirk Nowitzki, just as every high-jumping swing player was dubbed the next Michael Jordan in the 1990s, and that included Harold Miner, the poor guy.

Arenas brings the proper work ethic and underdog temperament to the international game. Like the foreign players who hone the game’s fundamentals, Arenas is a basketball junkie whose athleticism is secondary to his highly refined skills.

Arenas is not one to have a problem with USA Basketball’s three-year commitment.

As he said, “I play ball all year anyway. I had a game [Monday night] — seven dunks.”

Arenas won’t need the practices in Las Vegas to get into physical shape. He never lets himself get out of shape, as some players do in the offseason.

After the Cavaliers eliminated the Wizards from the playoffs, Arenas was in the team’s practice facility working on his free throw shooting the next day. His two free throw misses late in overtime provided the Cavaliers with the impetus to claim Game 6.

“Like I told coach, if someone is better than me, I can accept not making the team,” Arenas said. “But no one is going to outwork me. I am going to work myself onto the team.”

Arenas and Krzyzewski exchanged views in a telephone chat last week.

Arenas said he made it clear to Krzyzewski that he was humbled by the opportunity to represent the United States and that his ego would require no managing.

That is no stretch for Arenas, who long ago claimed the anti-star persona.

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