The "Boy Wonder” is carrying out just what he assured he would during "The Takeover” — serving up one scorching hot "Hibachi” after another as retribution to all his doubters and their disrespect — "Agent Zero” style. Confused? Welcome to "Gilbertology.” Meet Gilbert Arenas, the quirky point guard for the Washington Wizards who's renowned as much for his wacky persona as he is for his ability to wow NBA crowds. Arenas, the NBA's second-leading scorer, guides his Wizards into the Ford Center for the only time this season tonight at 7 to face the Hornets. And it's a good thing Arenas said none of the Hornets are on his hit list. There's no telling how much punishment he could dole out on the injury-plagued bunch in front of tonight's nationally televised ESPN audience. We're talking about a guy, who three weeks ago today, went into Phoenix and burned the Suns for 54 points to end their franchise-record, 15-game winning streak. Then, during an on-court interview with ESPN immediately after the game, had the nerve to announce: "One down, one to go.” The comment was in reference to his vow to torch both Suns coach Mike D'Antoni and Portland Trail Blazers coach Nate McMillan for 100 points in two games apiece for their roles in cutting him from last summer's Team USA roster. D'Antoni and McMillan were only assistant coaches in the World Championships. But that's Arenas, fueled by the slightest of slights, whether real or perceived, and itching to use them as motivation to destroy opponents each night. Been like that since Day One for Arenas, who wears jersey No. 0 because he says he came from nothing and that's how many points naysayers told him he would score in college at Arizona and in the NBA. "That's one thing about Gil,” said teammate Antawn Jamison, "he always finds something to motivate him.”
Draft-day snubWhen Arenas declared for the 2001 NBA Draft after his sophomore season at Arizona, he did so under the impression that he would be a first-round pick. But he fell to the Golden State Warriors in the second round largely because coaches and general managers were unsure whether the 6-foot-3 Arenas was a point guard or shooting guard. The draft-day snub is one Arenas still hasn't forgotten and used as incentive to win the league's Most Improved Player Award in his second season. "It's so satisfying for me,” said Arenas of his current success. "Being a second-round pick, no one believed in me.” Those days are long gone. To make sure of it, Arenas was hell bent on disproving his remaining doubters this season, one he dubbed "The Takeover” because he wanted to take over everything from the NBA to endorsements deals to the entire city of Washington D.C. Arenas enters the Ford Center tonight carrying a 30.2-point scoring average, second only to suspended Denver Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony. He ranks fifth in steals per game, seventh in player efficiency and 13th in assists per game. Arenas has won Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors twice this season and recently was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Month for December. Just five days before his brash performance in Phoenix, he thumped Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers for a career-high 60 points. Most importantly, Arenas has led the Wizards to a 20-14 record and 11 wins in their past 14 games. "He's on an unbelievable tear,” Hornets coach Byron Scott said. "Obviously, we're going to have to do some different things against him.” "You just can't allow him to play one-on-one against your guys because he's going to eat us up. He's that good.”
Going against the grainBefore Arenas garnered respect throughout the league for his basketball skills, his antics earned him a reputation for simply being a juvenile "Boy Wonder,” a nickname he's favored since his Golden State days. Arenas became infamous for deciding between multi-million dollar free-agent contract offers from the Wizards and Los Angeles Clippers by flipping a coin. As the story goes, he assigned the Clippers "heads” and the Wizards "tails.” He flipped the coin 10 times and heads came up eight times. He signed with the Wizards, saying he "doesn't go with the grain.” Arenas is known among many NBA fans for removing his jersey and tossing it into the crowd after every game. But he's also known for playing video poker in the locker room during halftime. He prides himself on getting just three to four hours of sleep each night — because of marathon video game sessions or middle-of-the-night workouts. During the 2003-04 season, Arenas traded a pair of shoes and a jersey to a shoe store in exchange for a box of All-Star ballots in an attempt to vote himself into the game. Didn't work. In the past, Arenas often crossed the line when pulling pranks. While his fascination for hiding teammates' jerseys seemed harmless, using players' cell phones to send inappropriate text messages appeared tasteless. During his rookie season, Arenas would lick doughnuts and cover them with baby powder before putting them back in the box and presenting them as the powdered sugar variety to his veteran teammates. Golden State forward and former teammate Troy Murphy said he stopped eating doughnuts the day he caught Arenas in the act. It's all a part of what Wizards coach Eddie Jordan refers to as "Gilbertology,” saying, "Arenas doesn't just march to the beat of a different drummer — he marches to a different beat.” Jordan has labeled his point guard "Captain Quirk.” "Gilbert is a person who truly enjoys life,” said Jamison, who's been a teammate of Arenas' for four of his previous five NBA seasons. "He's just somebody who likes to have a good time and is always smiling. "I think he's definitely matured from the time when he first got into the league. I think once he realized that he could become a star, he really stayed focused more on basketball.”
Quality shotsWith the antics on the shelf — well, most of them — Arenas has blossomed into a superstar. More than the career-high 60 points against the Lakers or the 54-point effort against the Suns, Arenas' signature moment this season came against the Milwaukee Bucks four games ago, when he buried a game-winning 3-pointer from 32 feet out as time expired. Arenas turned and began walking off the court before the shot splashed through the net. "He's probably the deadliest guy in the NBA,” said Hornets guard Chris Paul, who was chosen over Arenas as Team USA's starting point guard. "His offensive ability is like none other. After working out with him before my rookie season and this past summer, I see why it is.” Arenas has transformed from "Boy Wonder” to "Agent Zero,” a moniker that was created and popularized by an internet sports blog site dedicated to the Wizards. Arenas has referred to shots like the Milwaukee game-winner as "Hibachi,” a word Wizards center Brendan Haywood coined after the Japanese grill and used whenever opponents got hot and "cooked” one of his Wizards teammates. Throughout the season, Arenas has screamed "Hibachi” while shooting jumpers during games. But when Bryant called out Arenas for not having a conscience for shot selection after his 60-point outburst, Arenas changed his slogan to "quality shots.”
‘The Takeover'With respect and recognition now securely squeezed in his palms, you would think Arenas is out of motivational tools. Think again. "This is the NBA,” Arenas said. "No one respects anyone around here. You could be the No. 1 team and still people will throw shots at you about something.” Now the questions are, "Can Arenas keep up his torrid scoring pace?” "Can he do so and lead the Wizards to a championship?” "Now it comes down to me leading this team to see how far we can go,” Arenas said. "Right now, we are a playoff team. Before, people would be wondering if we could even get within 20 games of reaching the playoffs. "It is really just a satisfying feeling, and I am excited and look forward to seeing how far we can go.” Sounds more like Agent Zero than Boy Wonder. "He's kind of like my little brother, because I've been there from Day One,” Jamison said. "And to see him go through the transformation that he's been through is unbelievable.” Or maybe it's all a part of "The Takeover.”
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Washington's Gilbert Arenas is averaging 30.2 points per game for the 20-14 Wizards. Associated Press
Wizards at Hornets•When: 7 tonight •Where: Ford Center •Television: ESPN (Cox channel 29) •Radio: KHBZ-FM 94.7 Probable starters