Monday, September 28, 2009
Arceneaux travels the globe for hoops
By Dana O'Neil
A 20-point game was an off night.
Fifteen? Complete disaster.
Not even Dick Fosbury could clear the bar set for Harold Arceneaux after the 1999 NCAA tournament.
Faster than you can say Cinderella, Arceneaux went from unknown junior college player to the second coming of Pete Maravich. Dropping 36 while wearing a Weber State jersey and playing against North Carolina on the sport's biggest stage will do that to a guy.
"Unconscious," is how then-Carolina coach Bill Guthridge described the performance.
"That game put me on a whole different level in everybody's eyes," Arceneaux said of the magical night in which his team shocked third-seeded UNC. "After that, everyone wanted outrageous numbers. If I scored 20, I wasn't any good. If I had 35, I was 'The Show.' The expectations got crazy."
Truth is, Arceneaux delivered. He actually averaged more points in his senior season (23.0) than his junior year (22.3), went for 40 twice, 30-plus five times and connected on 51 percent of his field goals.
The Wildcats didn't deliver, though. Adjusting to a new head coach and with a ton of freshmen on the roster, Weber State went 18-10 in Arceneaux's senior season and failed to make the tourney.
"I had a better season but if you ask people, they'll say I wasn't as good my senior year," Arceneaux said. "It's funny how memories go."
Yet whatever fuzzy logic might do to perception, nothing can erase Arceneaux from the NCAA tournament fabric. He is the quintessential moment in time -- The Show who came from nowhere to steal the show.
A radio announcer originally tagged Arceneaux with the nickname. It stuck because his teammates loved the sweet-flowing cadence of it and the fact that when the 6-6 swingman took the floor, fans were in for some entertainment.
Since graduating from Weber State, it's been a traveling Road Show. Within the United States, Arceneaux has played in the CBA, the ABA, the IBL and the NBDL. Outside the country, he's competed in arenas from France to Venezuela, Portugal to the Philippines, Australia to Mexico, where Arceneaux is currently playing for the Lechugueros de León in Guanajuato.
And yes, the crowd is still enjoying the act.
"I love it here, the people are really into it," said Arceneaux, now 32. "I just love playing ball."
He always did. Raised in a New Orleans housing development, Arceneaux followed his dream to what might as well have been another world, following the dribble of a basketball all the way to Utah. He spent one season at the College of Eastern Utah and another at Midland (Texas) College, before transferring to Weber State. Guy Beach, his one-time Eastern coach, was now an assistant with the Wildcats.
A high scorer and two-time league MVP in junior college, Arceneaux still remained under the radar while mopping up the Big Sky for the first of his two player of the year awards.
And then the Wildcats went to Seattle for the NCAA tournament.
No one thought much of Weber State's chances. Why should they have? The Wildcats had made only one tournament appearance in the previous 15 seasons and were facing a UNC team gunning for its third straight trip to the Final Four.
The Tar Heels hadn't lost a tourney opener in 19 years.
But the Wildcats had a secret weapon: blissful ignorance.
"A lot of us had come from junior college teams," Arceneaux said. "We didn't really realize what we were getting into. We just figured we could take on the world."
Equally blessed with a head coach, Ron Abegglen, who didn't believe in anything less than a constant green light, Arceneaux didn't fluster when he missed his first few shots.
He just kept shooting.
And once the shots started going in, the Heels couldn't do anything to stop them. Arceneaux had 20 points in the second half.
"The best thing about him is his concentration," Abegglen said after the game. "I know it's a big game. I know it's North Carolina. But when he gets going, he can block everything out. I've only had a few players in 38 years of coaching who can even come close to what Harold can do with his concentration."
|Arceneaux almost single-handedly took down North Carolina in the 1999 NCAA tournament.|
Arceneaux can't really explain it. Like all shooters who get in a groove, he said it suddenly felt like no one else was on the floor, that the basket grew wider with every shot that slipped through it.
By game's end, Arceneaux had connected on 5 of 7 3-pointers and managed to stave off a furious Carolina rally by scoring all of Weber State's 11 points in a crucial 4:12 of play in the second half.
When he hit both of his foul shots with 13 seconds left in a one-point game and then later intercepted a Hail Mary heave at game's end, Weber State officially could celebrate the 76-74 victory.
Arceneaux nearly matched the heroics in the second round, scoring 32 against Florida, but the Wildcats came up short in overtime.
A lot of people expected Arceneaux to leave for the NBA that offseason. Abegglen was departing the program and the Wildcats were losing many of their players.
But the superstar stayed.
Arceneaux won Big Sky Player of the Year honors again and left school with 1,357 points in just two seasons. But he faded into the tapestry of the game as Weber State failed to make the Big Dance.
He heard the criticism during that season, that he should have come out, that he wasn't as good -- especially when he started the season averaging "only" 14 points in the first eight games.
But Arceneaux shrugged off the criticisms then and the second-guessing now.
"A lot of people don't realize basketball is a team sport," he said. "And the fact is, I'm a team player. I tuned it all out. Throughout my entire career, I've tried to be a team player and whenever I talk to kids, that's what I teach them. Winning as a team is always more important than any individual awards you'll receive."
More than content with the professional career he's managed to establish, Arceneaux said he still hears about his monster games. Almost annually around February or March, a reporter calls, looking for a story on a small-school kid who shocked the world.
He enjoys the attention, but enjoys even more seeing someone else living his same dream.
"People don't realize how a player might end up at one school over another," said Arceneaux, who was recruited by the likes of UNLV but chose Weber State because he felt more at ease there. "Just because someone is at a smaller school, it doesn't mean he can't play. I love when someone gets the opportunity and makes the most of it. That's what it's all about."
Dana O'Neil covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
That game put me on a whole different level in everybody's eyes. After that, everyone wanted outrageous numbers.
-- Former Weber State star Harold Arceneaux