PGU is counting down our 25 greatest Wildcats of all time. To see the honorable mention and how the rankings are formulated, click here.
#25: Hassan Adams (35.08)
#24: Sean Rooks (35.29)
#23: Anthony Cook (35.74)
#22: Al Fleming (37.31)
#21: Chase Budinger (37.52)
#20: Loren Woods (37.57)
#19: Michael Wright (37.85)
#18: Jud Buechler (38.07)
#17: Salim Stoudamire (39.15)
#16: Derrick Williams (40.31)
#15: Bob Elliott (41.86)
#14: Channing Frye (42.13)
#13: Richard Jefferson (43.86)
#12: Luke Walton (45.15)
#11: Gilbert Arenas (45.44)
Time as a Wildcat
Before he became “Agent Zero” and a three time NBA All Star, Gilbert Arenas lit up the McKale Center and college basketball arenas around the country with flashy moves, a deadly jumper and an unmatched swagger.
When Arenas arrived in Tucson as a freshman, he was only 17 years old and more than a bit immature. But on the court, he already possessed skills that not many guards of any age could pull off.
While the original plan had been to redshirt the kid out of Los Angeles, Lute Olson was left with no choice but to give him quality minutes.
However, there was more drama when it came to who would start at shooting guard. Ruben Douglas was originally supposed to get the spot but Arenas stated he would be starting by mid-season. In high school, Arenas had once scored 49 points on Douglas so he had a right to feel confident.
After doing well in practices, Arenas proved to the coaching staff that he was more deserving. Then as fate would have it, Douglas transferred to New Mexico without playing a single minute for Arizona in the ‘99-00 season.
In Arenas’ Arizona debut, the annual Red-Blue game, he scored 22 points and quickly became a fan favorite for the energy he brought to the court. He was the perfect fit in Olson’s up-tempo offense, as he was arguably most effect on the fastbreak.
A couple weeks later, Arenas shined once again. This time it was at Madison Square Garden for the Preseason NIT Tournament. In the championship game against Kentucky, he scored a team-high 20 points and was named the MVP.
With Jason Gardner running the point, Arenas had to learn how to play off the ball. He quickly adjusted to this new role and ended up excelling in it. His two most prolific outings as a freshman both happened to be against Arizona State.
In Tempe, he shot an extraordinary 77% from the field (10-13) and ended up with 24 points in a rout. Exactly a month later, he scored 29 points and by season’s end, he was averaging over 15 points per game.
The Cats of course were upset by No. 8 seed Wisconsin in the second round of the 2000 NCAA Tournament.
Arenas was a big part of why Arizona was favored to go farther in the following year’s Big Dance. Over the summer, he put lots of work into his three point shooting and it paid off. He shot a team-best 41.6% from long range in ‘00-01 and in a game against Washington State, Arenas made all six of his attempts from beyond the arc.
Defense had never been a strong suit for Arenas but after Olson benched him for a lack of effort, he focused heavily on becoming a better all-around player. Clearly the discipline was something he needed in order to turn into a future NBA star.
The season was an emotional one for Olson and all Arizona fans. His beloved wife, Bobbi, died on New Year’s Day. Perhaps the one bright spot that came out of her passing was that the Cats played inspired basketball for the rest of the season, as they won 20 of their final 23 games and reached the Final Four.
In the semi-final game, Arenas recorded a career high seven steals and Arizona buried Michigan State, but the guard was nearly knocked out of the championship match when Zach Randolph severely bruised his chest.
Arenas was too much of a fighter to not play in such an important game but he was clearly not himself against Duke, shooting just 4-17 from the field. Had he been in good shape, perhaps the final outcome would have been different.
Not soon after, Arenas declared for the NBA Draft after two season at Arizona. As a sophomore, he averaged over 16 points per game and was named a third team All-American by ESPN.
Career After Arizona
Arenas was the 30th overall pick in the 2001 Draft, selected by Golden State. After struggling in his rookie season, he averaged 18.3 points in ‘02-03 and was named the NBA Most Improved Player.
After two seasons with the Warriors, he signed a six-year, $60 million contract with the Washington Wizards. It was there he became one of the best players in the Association.
In December of 2006, he scored a franchise record 60 points against the Lakers, only one of 20 players ever to do so.
Arenas’ career in Washington came to an unfortunate end. After violating handgun laws, he was suspended for almost the entire ‘09-10 season and has never returned to being the dominant player he had been before the legal troubles.
He did lead the Wizards in scoring for the first 24 games of the ‘10-11 season. He was then traded to Orlando where he was a contributor to a Playoff team.
After being waved by the Magic in December of this past season, he was unable to sign with any franchise until he joined Memphis in late March. With the Grizzlies, he averaged about 12 minutes over the final 17 games.
While Arenas may be most well known for his off-the-court troubles, Arizona fans will always remember him for the exciting style of basketball he brought to Tucson and for being a part of the 2001 National Runner-up team.