Wizards' Gilbert Arenas nears end of halfway house sentence

By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 7, 2010; B01

Good news, Washington basketball fans: The reports from a local halfway house have Gilbert Arenas in good spirits and nailing his jump shots.

"You leave him open, he's going to make it," said Tony Dorsey, one of 10 halfway house residents who agreed this week to discuss their life with Arenas over the past month.

The Wizards star, who pleaded guilty this year in D.C. Superior Court to a felony handgun violation stemming from a locker room incident at Verizon Center, has been serving a 30-day sentence inside the facility, near White Flint mall in Montgomery County. He is scheduled to be released Friday.

Arenas was one of 152 offenders sleeping at the halfway house this week, according to Thursday's head count. Most have jobs or perform court-ordered community service during the day. Arenas has served as a mentor for juvenile offenders at New Beginnings Youth Development Center in Laurel.

In the evenings, he watches TV in community rooms, plays chess, talks with others in the cafeteria, has family visits and goes out back for pickup basketball games, according to his fellow residents.

"He makes you a better player," said Dorsey, who said he was serving out a probation violation.

Like others at the halfway house -- officially called the Montgomery County Pre-Release Center and owning a national reputation for its tight management style -- Arenas was eligible for increased privileges for diligent work during the day and obeying rules at night. For him, that has meant his own room, according to residents, and trips to a nearby Gold's Gym in the evenings.

"He starts off with a little cardio," said William Clark, a Gold's employee.

That involves treadmill, stationary bike and an elliptical machine, Clark said. Then he's on to weightlifting, generally with earphones and a portable music player. Clark has seen other gym members approach Arenas and try to talk to him, and Arenas simply ignores them.

He did the same when approached by a reporter Wednesday night at the front counter of Gold's. Arenas had just finished his workout, paid his $15 one-use fee, and briskly walked out to his SUV and climbed in behind tinted windows. "I would do the same if I was in the predicament he is in," Clark said.

Arenas's attorneys have declined repeated requests for interviews with the player. "Gilbert is handling this just the right way -- he's keeping himself focused on seeing the criminal process through, carrying out Judge [Robert E.] Morin's sentencing order and performing his community service," attorney Ken Wainstein said Thursday night.

Arenas seems to be more comfortable at the halfway house than at the gym with strangers.

He spent the first two days of his sentence at the Montgomery County Detention Center, standard procedure for offenders in his category. Dorsey said he saw him there, playing spades with other inmates.

Arenas arrived at the halfway house April 11.

Resident Edwin Bejarano, 22, said he noticed Arenas keeping to himself. But Bejarano said he eventually had two pleasant conversations with him, owing to their mutual affection for vintage Cadillacs and Impalas.

"He likes old-school cars," Bejarano said.

Kenny Whitfield, another resident, said he gave Arenas chess lessons. "He's getting better," Whitfield said.

As for basketball, one troubling piece of information from the residents: Arenas has to ice his bad knee afterward.

On the court, he hasn't played particularly hard and seemed worried about mixing it up too much, several residents said. But Dorsey, who said he often guarded him, said Arenas's competitive drive flared up if he needed to score.

And when another resident scored on him, that brought out the ribbing from all those watching.

" 'Come on, Gilbert!' " Dorsey recalled them saying. " 'What are you doing? You're supposed to be in the NBA.' "

Residents said they weren't allowed to get Arenas's autograph until Thursday, his last full day.

Arenas still has to complete his 400 hours of community service. He can spend the remaining hours at New Beginnings or with other community service organizations. Arenas also will be on probation for two years.

Staff writer Keith L. Alexander contributed to this report.

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