By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 31, 2006
Washington Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas is frustrated about not being on the U.S. national team playing in the FIBA World Championship and said he believes he was not given a fair tryout.
When Arenas left the squad on Aug. 14, national team managing director Jerry Colangelo said it was because Arenas had an injured groin. But in his first comments since then, Arenas, the Wizards' leading scorer and a two-time all-star, said he didn't think he was going to make the 12-man roster and that the injury became an excuse to part ways.
"They already knew what they wanted. They said it was a tryout, but they already had their team selected," he said after playing in a Goodman Summer League game at Barry Farms Park in Southeast Washington on Tuesday night and showing no signs of the injury.
Arenas emphasized that he hopes to remain part of the national program and play in the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
In four pre-tournament tune-up games, Arenas made one start and averaged 3.8 points, 2.3 rebounds and 11 minutes. He was fighting for playing time in a crowded back court that includes Chris Paul, Shane Battier, Kirk Hinrich and Joe Johnson. Paul and Hinrich played the majority of minutes at point guard, and the team is loaded with perimeter scorers such as Johnson, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony.
"No joke, I felt like I was the 16th man on a 15-man roster," Arenas said. "You are there to support your team and support your country and be happy to play but you know, I did everything they wanted me to do; but if I did everything they wanted me to do, why am I on the bubble of getting cut? I sacrificed. You've got LeBron being LeBron. You've got Carmelo being Carmelo. You've got D-Wade being D-Wade. Why can't I be me? Why do I have to transform? I did that and now you are going to cut me?"
Colangelo could not be reached for comment.
Arenas and San Antonio Spurs guard Bruce Bowen were the two players trimmed from the roster on Aug. 18. Arenas, Bowen and other national team players who are not participating in the world championship, including Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, are still eligible for future international competitions.
Arenas, who averaged a career-high 29.4 points a game last season , said he tried to blend in by playing off the ball at shooting guard, by carefully picking his spots on offense and by hustling on defense but said he sensed that he was not a part of Coach Mike Krzyzewski's plans, saying, "I think I was the only person he didn't talk to the whole time we were out there."
Krzyzewski, who will lead the national team through the Beijing Olympics, said he faced a difficult choice in reducing the roster from 14 to 12 . Arenas and Bowen wound up being the odd men out while Wizards forward Antawn Jamison and Sacramento Kings center Brad Miller were kept.
"We had two point guards and the four main players on the perimeter for us are Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and Joe Johnson," Krzyzewski said on Aug. 18. "We just felt that with the playing time they're going to get we needed support in the back line. When we played Brazil and Lithuania we needed depth there."
Arenas said he made up his mind to return home on Aug. 14 after he strained his groin while going up for a dunk attempt during practice. In a conversation with Colangelo that day, Arenas said it became obvious to him that he was going to get trimmed from the roster.
"The disappointing part was talking to Colangelo and he said, 'I heard you want to go home,' " Arenas said. "I told him that I was hurt but I didn't know how serious it was and that I didn't want to hold up a spot for somebody else. He told me, 'I've been talking to the coaches and you're on the bubble anyway, so you can go if you want.' I was like, all right."
Team USA faces Greece in a semifinal game tomorrow morning.
"Even though it was disappointing for me, I had a good time over there and I hope they win it," Arenas said. "I told the team when I was leaving that I can't wait for them to win the gold so me and Antawn can share it. I'm just going to keep working hard. I have two years to get ready for the Olympics. That's how I look at it."
Arenas's frustration over what happened this summer stands in stark contrast to the enthusiasm he showed when Colangelo selected him as one of the 22 national team candidates in February.
Arenas, who campaigned for an invitation, called his selection one of the highlights of his career and spent the early part of the summer preparing for training camp in Las Vegas, which opened July 19.
In the past, Arenas has used slights -- real or imagined -- to motivate him and said this latest experience will only make him a more determined player heading into his sixth NBA season.
"I just hope people start looking at my basketball talent and stop prejudging me," Arenas said. "Whether it was barely getting a scholarship out of high school or going in the second round in the draft or almost not making the all-star game last year, it just always seems like people don't want to give me what I've earned. It's frustrating. I guess I just have to keep working on my game so people have no choice but to recognize me."
Arenas said he plans on reserving a little extra effort for two Team USA assistant coaches: Portland Trail Blazers head coach Nate McMillan and Phoenix Suns head coach Mike D'Antoni.
"I'm going to be the silent assassin this year," he said. "I can't wait to play the Suns and Portland. Against Portland, Nate McMillan, I'm going to try to score 100 in two games and against D'Antoni, I'm going to score 100 in two games. I'm going to try."