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Arroyo Returns – Bigger Than Ever…Four More Years? Arroyo Is Excited…A Throwback

Arroyo Returns – Bigger Than Ever

By Brad Rock Deseret Morning News

5 October 2004
Copyright © 2004 Deseret News Publishing Co. All rights reserved.

Deseret Morning News

Here he comes, into practice gym, where a horde of media awaits. Carlos Arroyo is a must-have story. Everyone wants to know whether he's tired from all his offseason basketball ("I feel great"), what he thinks of the new Jazz ("we'll be a great team"), and most of all, how he got from nowhere to here ("I believed in myself"). What reporter could resist that? The guy from Puerto Rico, and Florida International University -- neither a Mecca for aspiring hoop stars -- is now on the Jazz's A-list. Last time Utah took a chance on a Puerto Rican player was in 1987, when it drafted the star-crossed Jose Ortiz. Now 41, Ortiz is retiring after a career in international play. But Arroyo is as hot as a San Juan sauna. He led his country in the Olympics this summer, averaging 18 points and five assists, as his team finished sixth in the tournament. More important, he is the undisputed Jazz starter at point guard going into training camp. This is how big Arroyo has become: Roberto Clemente big.

If you don't know who Clemente is, you don't know much about baseball. Or Puerto Rico. Clemente is the '60s Pittsburgh Pirates icon who scattered hits to every nook of the ballpark. He would swing at anything and had a strike zone as wide as the Allegheny River. Clemente died prematurely in a plane crash.

Over three decades later, Arroyo joins Clemente as the only Puerto Ricans to be signed to commercial endorsements by Gatorade. Clemente starred in TV commercials in 1971.

Arroyo's newfound celebrity couldn't have been foreseen. Undrafted in 2001, he played briefly in the NBA that year but spent most of the season in Spain. In 2002-03, he was the Jazz's No. 3 point guard, playing in just 44 games. A year ago, his recognition index was somewhere between "low" and "Montreal Expos low." He was on the team but not a certain starter. There was speculation the Jazz would put their hopes on Spaniard Raul Lopez, a quicker, flashier option at point guard.

Beyond that was the John Stockton factor. Arroyo was trying to fill the shoes of a future Hall of Fame point guard, which for Jazz fans was like being told the kitchen is out of steak but would you mind trying the meat loaf. Turns out Arroyo wasn't bad. He averaged 12.6 points and five assists last season. "People didn't believe I could make it, but I believed in myself and I've shown I belong in the league," says Arroyo. "I've proved some people wrong. I love that -- proving people wrong."

He wasn't perfect -- he tends to get impatient and force shots -- but he was competitive. His game-winner against Denver on March 27 was a defining moment. Teammates mobbed him as though they had won a title. Even that couldn't have portended what would come.

This summer Arroyo became an international figure by first carrying his nation's flag in the Olympic opening ceremonies and later pumping in 24 points in the win over Team USA -- an event seen by hundreds of millions. The sight of Arroyo tugging at his jersey, gesturing to his country's name and pounding his chest, brought home a sobering reality to Americans: They aren't the only ones who can play basketball. Getting trashed by an island of 4 million people can be humbling.

Arroyo enters training camp with more certainty than he has ever enjoyed. The shadow of Stockton no longer stalks him so closely. "There's definitely less pressure this year for me and as a team," says Arroyo. Still, he didn't get here by sitting on his accomplishments.

So when asked if it's now his team, not Stockton's, Arroyo smiles almost shyly. "It's not my team. I'm still learning. I need to get a couple of years under my belt and earn more respect. In a couple of years maybe I can say that, but not now. You could say this is Andre's team -- no! it's Jerry's team. Forget that other stuff. It's Jerry's team." Fair enough. But it's Arroyo's moment.

Four More Years? Arroyo Is Excited

By Tim Buckley Deseret Morning News

10 October 2004
Copyright © 2004 Deseret News Publishing Co. All rights reserved.

Deseret Morning News

Last season, Jazz point guard Carlos Arroyo visited the White House on behalf on his native Puerto Rico. Last summer, the Jazz gave Arroyo something George Bush desperately wants: Four more years. "I'm excited about the season," said Arroyo, who finished his first week of training camp with a quiet two points in the Jazz's open-to-the-public scrimmage Saturday night at the Delta Center.

"I'm excited, and very fortunate and grateful that the Jazz gave me the opportunity to be here four more years." It takes no great debate to determine that the four-year, $16 million contract Arroyo signed is a good deal for the undrafted Florida International University product. With the pact, however, comes higher expectations as Arroyo prepares for his second season as the Jazz's starting point and successor to retired John Stockton. His contributions are likely to be critical to the Jazz.'s Chad Ford recently included the 25-year-old on his preseason "Next Big Thing" top-10 list, along with Atlanta's Al Harrington, Philadelphia's Samuel Dalembert and Willie Green, Dallas' Josh Howard, Boston's Jiri Welsch, Golden State's Mickael Pietrus, Detroit's Tayshaun Prince, Phoenix's Leandro Barbosa and Charlotte's Primoz Brezec. "Look for Arroyo," Ford wrote, "to take the next step toward being one of the top point guards in the West this season."

Ford's opinion, like that of many who hype Arroyo as one of the league's potential future stars, is colored not only by last season's body of work (a career-high 12.6 points and 5.0 assists per game), but also by his efforts leading Puerto Rico to an upset of the heavily favored United States in the opening game for both national teams at last August's Summer Olympics. "He faded a little bit by the end," Ford wrote, "but during the preliminary rounds he looked like one of the best point guards in the world."

Living up to talk like that helps motivate Arroyo, who feels well-positioned to take that aforementioned step. "I understand that to be great, you need to work hard, and learn about the game every day," he said. "And the best thing about me being here is that I learn from (coach) Jerry (Sloan), a lot. He allows myself to get better. He pushes me to the next level."

Sloan praised Arroyo upon his arrival at camp, saying the fourth-season pro is in much-better condition than during his first two Octobers in Utah. "He came in in great shape," Sloan said Saturday. "He hasn't missed a thing, and he's been great at everything he's done." Experience gets partial credit for that: "I've already been here two years," Arroyo said, "so I know how to be ready." A busy offseason gets the rest: "It started with playing all summer. I was in shape the whole summer."

Now, it's a matter of switching from the freestyle play he enjoyed with Puerto Rico to being the sort of point Sloan's system demands. "The Puerto Rican national team needs me to do more than I do here," Arroyo said. "When I say that, I mean scoring, and doing all kinds of stuff. So, I was doing a little bit more than what I do here. Here, I have a lot of help. "It's up to me now," he added, "to learn every day, and allow myself to get better every. So, I think I'm in a great system to be one of the best point guards in the league."

Arroyo, though, is quick to note he realizes impressions of his own play are tied directly to the Jazz's fate. For him, the next step is "taking this team to another level. "I think that the team playing at another level starts from the point guard, and I lead the way," he said. "So, I think I have a great chance at helping the team play real good basketball, and be an interesting team."

Offseason additions of bona fide big men Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur shouldn't hurt, either. "You know, Kevin (O'Connor, the Jazz's senior vice president of basketball operations) did a great of putting our team together," Arroyo said. "So, it's up to me now to take advantage of that when I'm on the court, and use the weapons the right way." Spoken just like a man who's spent some time at the White House.

Throwbacks: The Playmaker Can You Turn A Flashy, Slashing, Scoring Guard Into A Selfless, Stocktonesque Team Leader? Well, Yes, Says Carlos Arroyo


25 October 2004
Copyright © 2004 Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved.

What if it were possible to take a fully formed basketball player, one given to crazy drives and all the other hallmarks of the SportsCenter era, and turn him into another John Stockton, a throwback player? That's the sort of dream that coaches have these days: Put a point guard on the operating table and, with lightning crashing overhead, surgically create a savvy floor leader-- Stocktonstein.

Jazz coach Jerry Sloan has been playing the mad scientist in Utah, and behold his creation: Carlos Arroyo. This season the 6'2", 202-pound Arroyo is expected to lead a team that, with the addition of forward Carlos Boozer and center Mehmet Okur, should contend for a playoff spot. He will not, of course, be looking to score-- something that comes naturally to him--but instead to perform all the selfless duties of a true point guard. "It's all about adjusting to the system," he says. "I need to control the tempo and make the right decision at the right time. Every possession counts."

To understand how Arroyo, 25, has been transformed from a flashy, take-it-to-the-hole scorer to point guard in the Utah mind-set, it helps to know his background. He learned the game on the hillside courts of Fajardo, Puerto Rico, a small town 30 miles east of San Juan, and grew up idolizing Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas. Wanting to put his game on display for college recruiters in the States, he moved to Thomasville, Ga., and lived with a host family for his junior year of high school. He averaged nearly 30 points and 10 assists for Brookwood high school and earned a scholarship to Florida International University, where he arrived full of brio. "He was really self-confident," says Jazz guard Raja Bell, who was two years ahead of Arroyo at FIU. "At first his cockiness and aggressiveness rubbed a lot of us the wrong way, but we came around."

Arroyo averaged 16.0 points and 4.6 assists over four seasons but went undrafted in 2001. He latched on briefly with Toronto, appearing in 17 games, then played in Spain before returning to the NBA for a 37-game stint with Denver. When no team offered him a contract after the season, he was disappointed but undeterred. "I kept telling myself, You haven't worked so hard since you were a kid to get here and say, This is not for me," says Arroyo.

His heady performance for Puerto Rico in the FIBA World Championships in the summer of 2002 caught the eye of the Jazz, who were in the market for a point guard because of Stockton's impending retirement. And when Arroyo arrived at Jazz camp, he was the perfect candidate for a makeover. "Rather than feeling entitled, he had something to prove," says Utah assistant Gordie Chiesa. "He was a good kid who really wanted to play. It was perfect."

In 2002-03 Arroyo apprenticed under Stockton and Mark Jackson, who are Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, on the league's alltime assists list, and played only 287 minutes (the equivalent of less than six games). But every practice was a class in Point Guard 101. "John is a quiet type of guy, but just watching him, I learned how to be professional," says Arroyo. "Mark was more vocal, helping me with little things."

Still, he needed more playing time to master the Jazz's system, which is simple to understand and hard to execute. "It's a mind- set," says Chiesa. "You come down the floor thinking team. Then, if the ball comes back to you in a short-clock situation [five or fewer seconds in which to shoot], you're thinking, Make a play. That's why Stockton was the best of all time."

Last season, following Stockton's retirement and Mark Jackson's departure (he went to the Rockets as a free agent), Arroyo got his on-the-job training: 71 starts and 28.3 minutes per game. He didn't make anyone forget Stockton, but he didn't disappoint anyone either, averaging 12.6 points and 5.0 assists as the Jazz fell just short of the playoffs. Arroyo had his moments--scoring 30 points once and winning a couple of games with clutch shots--but other times he was criticized by his teammates and Sloan for looking for his shot or for inconsistent effort on defense.

Each time, though, he responded as directed, delighting a coach not given to delight. "His general approach is what you look for in every player trying to get better," says Sloan. "He's made tremendous strides."

Over the summer Arroyo became a hero in his native country after he led the Puerto Rican national team to a 92-73 upset of the U.S. in the Athens Olympics. He scored 24 points, handed out seven assists and showcased his all-around game: pull-up jumpers, off- the-glass runners, crisp playmaking. At least 20 people left congratulatory messages on his cellphone. Everyone loved him. Except Sloan. "He had the one great game everybody talked about," the Utah coach says with a frown, "but he struggled in some of the other games. I'm interested in day-to-day productivity."

So is Arroyo, who says he is "very, very eager" for the season to start. This is a guy who called Jazz G.M. Kevin O'Connor this summer, not the other way around, to make it clear he wanted to stay in Utah. He's not only accessible to the media, but he also offers to drive over to a reporter's hotel for an interview. He's so pumped to be the face of the Jazz that he got his hair trimmed the afternoon before media day so he'd look more presentable. Fittingly, for a player who's been converted into a throwback, it was a neat-and-clean buzz cut.

His approach is what you look for in every player trying to get better," says Utah coach Jerry Sloan. "HE'S MADE TREMENDOUS STRIDES."

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