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Living His Dream…Arroyo Makes A Point

Living His Dream

Gordon Monson

The Salt Lake Tribune

November 14, 2003
Copyright © 2003
Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved.

On an outdoor court deep in the heart of the Caribbean, day after day, Carlos Arroyo shouted into the hot, humid air the names of famous players as he mimicked one and schooled another. He spun in the lane, snapped his jumper through the net and yelled, "Michaaaaaaaeel Joooorrrdddaaaan," or he busted a move and drilled a sweet pass, "Maaaaagiiiccc Joooooohhnson."

Just the way kids with big dreams in Los Angeles and Chicago would do.

Arroyo, though, did his dreaming and screaming in the tiny town of Fajardo on the eastern side of Puerto Rico. Every day after school, Carlos Alberto, and sometimes, his twin brother, Alberto Carlos, walked from their home up a small hill to the courts where Carlos played his game, worked his moves and chased his improbable plans. Alberto, born 30 seconds before Carlos, was sidetracked by video games and other interests, pursuits and distractions.

The younger Arroyo wanted only to play in the NBA.

That was the start of his circuitous path to the Utah Jazz.

"It's good to live your dream," he says.

At first, older players who ruled the run on those tropical outdoor courts did not allow Arroyo to join them because he was too young. After a few years, they chased him off again, because he was too dominant. It seemed, at least to them, that the borrowed moves were too close to the originals.

The diminutive point guard studied the moves on television and honed them against his brother and the old men. He also learned English by watching American TV shows, in the few down hours he had between going to school, doing homework and balling.

Education priority: Arroyo's father was an attorney. His mother, a teacher.

Education was important to them. There were few corners allowed to be cut on account of lazy ambition. When Arroyo outgrew the hometown courts, his parents, who eventually divorced, alternated in driving him 45 minutes each way to San Juan, where he played on the big city's club teams.

By the time Arroyo was 16, he was playing as an amateur in one of Puerto Rico's professional leagues. That first season, he was named rookie of the year. At 17, he made the All-Star team. Later, he ascended to the national team.

"I kept playing and learning," he says. "I always was confident that I could play."

That confidence would one day hit the wall.

Eager to test his skills against teenage players in the United States, Arroyo moved to Thomasville, Ga., for one year of high school, before heading back home. He caught the eye of college recruiters and decided to attend Florida International in Miami because, as he puts it, "I love the city and a lot of Puerto Ricans go to school there."

He also knew he had to get off the island to find his way to the NBA.

After four years at Florida International, where he averaged 16 points and 4.6 assists in 100 games, Arroyo thought he might be drafted. He had shown up at a pre-draft camp in Chicago, despite the fact that he had broken his foot while playing in Puerto Rico just three days earlier. NBA executives told him to go home and heal. The Heat and the Pacers, in particular, had seemed zestful suitors, and yet, on draft day in 2001, neither club selected him.

"I was disappointed," Arroyo says. "Nobody wanted me."

His self-assuredness, so diligently gained on the courts of his homeland, temporarily nose-dived. Toronto invited him to its preseason camp in the fall of 2001, but the Raptors cut him before he felt he had a chance to show his abilities.

"I was devastated," he says. "I started asking myself questions like, 'Am I really any good? Can I play in this league?' I had to work hard to regain my focus. Deep down, I felt I deserved to be in the NBA. I was talented enough. I stayed motivated. I told myself, 'You didn't work for 20 years of your life to come here and not make it.' "

Instead, he took a side door.

He played in Spain until the Nuggets scooped up his services for a 10-day contract, and then another, subsequently signing him for the rest of the year.

Before the start of last season, Denver let the 6-foot point guard go, allowing the Jazz to sign him to a one-year deal.

On the bench: "For me, it couldn't have been more right," Arroyo says. "To come here and watch two legends play, John Stockton and Mark Jackson, I could learn everything from them. Plus, I talked with [former Jazz player and fellow Puerto Rican] Jose Ortiz, and he had great things to say about the team and Salt Lake City, so I came."

And he watched.

And he learned.

From the far reaches of the bench.

"I picked up the way they approached the game, the mental part, the little tricks on the court," Arroyo says. "I learned how to control the tempo of the game. When I was younger, I used to push the ball, even in the last five minutes of games. I learned when to do what, where to put the ball, how to win."

He also learned how to gain the favor of Jazz coach Jerry Sloan. During a meeting with team officials after the Jazz were eliminated from the playoffs, they told him they would like to have him back.

"Jerry said he saw a change in me," Arroyo says. "Even though I wasn't playing, he said he saw that I was ready to work hard and ready to play. They seemed to want me back, but no contract was offered."

The offer, another one-year deal, came and was signed on July 30, Arroyo's 24th birthday.

"I knew they had been trying to get guys like Andre Miller and Jason Terry," he says. "And I thought they might bring someone in. But all I wanted was to have a chance to show that I could play. I believed in myself, still. If you don't believe in yourself, who will?"

When the Jazz signed no veteran point guards, the job was passed along to Arroyo and Raul Lopez.

"It's my job now to run this team," Arroyo says. "That's what they want me to do. I'm like the coach out on the floor. I think my teammates believe I can do it."

While dividing time with Lopez, and fighting an ankle injury, Arroyo has assumed the starter's role, averaging 12.8 points and 7.4 assists in 30 minutes per game. In the season opener against Portland, he scored 18 points and dished 13 assists, and had three steals.

"The most important thing for Carlos now is, he's getting a chance to play," says Jazz assistant coach Gordie Chiesa.

"We're seeing someone who has a chance to do some really good things. The first few games have been a breakout for him. He's playing through his mistakes, making good decisions, handling the ball well. There's a gait, a confidence, to his game."

That gait, at times, looks full of drama, almost like a cartoon character, skedaddling up the floor. When he makes a move, especially on the break, Arroyo seems to move his feet faster than his body is actually moving, looking something like Quick Draw McGraw on the run.

Hey, whatever works.

"I still have to work hard," Arroyo says. "But the most important thing for me is that my teammates and Jerry believe in me."

Jerry agrees.

"I like Carlos," Sloan says. "Sometimes he gets a little pressure on him and he struggles, but he's a good shooter. And he'll get better. He's young, but he can run the team. He just needs to be a little more forceful. That's the point guard's responsibility."

Teammates are fans: His teammates agree, too.

"The guy has talent," says Matt Harpring. "He's got an opportunity. This is his chance. Both he and Raul are doing a great job. And we need that."

Now, when the kids -- perhaps the men, too -- play ball on those hot, humid outdoor courts on the hill in Fajardo, when they bust their moves and snap the nets, when they dream and scream, they will call out another name, "Caaaaaarrlooos Arrooooyooo."

"Maybe they will," Arroyo says, hesitating momentarily. "Probably." Another hesitation. "I would like that."

It's good to live your dream.

Arroyo Makes A Point


January 16, 2004
Copyright © 2004
THE MIAMI HERALD. All rights reserved.

After two years of limited minutes on three teams, former FIU point guard Carlos Arroyo is having a breakthrough.

Arroyo has followed Jazz legend John Stockton as Utah's starting point guard, and through nearly half a season the Puerto Rico native is averaging 14 points and 5.9 assists.

''It's a tough situation to be in, but it's one I've dreamed of being in my whole life,'' Arroyo said. ``I didn't get much playing time my first or second year, and to be starting in my third year is a big accomplishment. And it's a big responsibility to get this team to another level, and I accept and take it as a challenge.''

Helping Arroyo make the transition from third string to main man is his former FIU teammate, Raja Bell. In his fourth NBA season, Bell leads the league in three-point shooting percentage (.521) and is making life easier for Arroyo.

''You feel more comfortable,'' Arroyo said of playing with Bell. ``I played with Raja for two years, and it's like having somebody from your family. We have a great chemistry.''

Arroyo likely will be considered a top point-guard option when he becomes a free agent this summer. With the Heat needing a point guard, Arroyo said he would like a return to Miami under the right circumstances.

''I'm looking forward to being here [in Utah] next year,'' he said. ``It's definitely going to be my first option. I don't know what their thinking is as far as bringing me back or not, but I would definitely love to play at home, too. Right now, it's Utah.''

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