‘Fans just want to see good basketball’

By Carla Peay, BASN Staff Reporter
Updated: September 28, 2010

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Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas addresses the press on Media Day. Photo by John E. DeFreitas

Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas addresses the press on Media Day. Photo by John E. DeFreitas

WASHINGTON, D.C. (BASN) — It’s been several months since the Washington D.C.

media corps gathered around Washington Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas and waited in anticipation for Gil to dazzle us with his humor, his personality and his antics.

But the player formerly known as “Agent Zero” presented a completely different face than the one we’ve been used to seeing for the past few years.

For starters, the number zero has been replaced by the number nine on his uniform jersey; he is sporting a thick, full beard; and his joviality from seasons past has been replaced — at least in front of the media — by a serious, somber Arenas who cracked a smile just once during the two hour media day session.

Arenas appeared somber, almost stone faced, clearly displaying a more serious attitude and a more mature persona than in years past.

“I am just happy to be playing this year,” Arenas said in a voice barely above a whisper. In response to a question about “winning back the fans”, Arenas responded “At the end of the day, fans just want to see good basketball.”

Arenas’ troubles have been well documented — three knee operations followed by a 50-game suspension on gun possession charges last season.

Now, Arenas must share the stage at Verizon Center with John Wall, the first overall draft pick from Kentucky who is expected to become a star at the point guard position.

When Wall arrived in D.C., he was greeted like a conquering hero in a parade like atmosphere, while Arenas’ saw his likeness removed from Verizon Center hallways, his jersey removed from sales kiosks, and a banner of him removed from the side of the building.

But new photos of Arenas now adorn the brick walls — in his new number nine jersey — and both sides seem anxious to move beyond past problems and embrace the future of this Wizards team. Head coach Flip Saunders set the new tone the team is trying to adopt.

“Right now there is a lot of excitement and interest in our team. We are anxious to get things going as soon as possible,” Saunders said. In reference to “the new Arenas”, Saunders pointed out that perhaps what the media is seeing is a little different than what he and the rest of the team sees in practice.

“Gil is anxious to get the season started like everyone else. He has a lot to prove to himself. He’s in the best shape he’s been in in years, he’s working hard; he’s extremely focused,” Saunders said.

In response to the pairing of Wall and Arenas in the back court, Saunders disputed the notion that the two would have trouble playing together cohesively.

“Wall makes other players around him better and Gil can play off the ball. He’s a great shooter, and he can catch and shoot. It’s a fallacy that the two can’t play together. Both guys have played a lot together,” Saunders said.

Wall agreed with his new head coach.

“I’ve learned a lot [from Arenas]. We’ve played pickup together a couple of times. To me I don’t think it’s going to be a big deal [playing with Arenas]. He can score a lot of different ways.”

But Saunders was anxious to leave last year in the past, and steered the conversation to the upcoming season.

“We’re not talking about last season,” he was quick to add. “We’re in better condition than we were last year. Our saying now is ‘back to the basics’,” Saunders said.

And with that, the talk turned to training camp, which the team will hold in Fairfax, Va. at George Mason University. The team kicked things off with a “Midnight Madness” scrimmage that began at 12:01 on Tuesday, Sept. 28.

“Midnight Madness has now taken on a life of its own. Guys were so excited to get started and there was so much adrenaline, that they wouldn’t sleep the night before, so we decided why not just go ahead and start playing at midnight,” Saunders said.

Judging by the large and enthusiastic crowd that began lining up at 9:30 pm to watch the team, the fans seem as anxious as Arenas and Saunders to put last season in the rearview mirror, and start fresh.