Dalen Terry learned about the University of Arizona’s rich basketball tradition at a young age. He didn’t have much of a choice.
The Tempe native would play in AAU tournaments at high schools across the state and see the retired jerseys of NBA stars like Richard Jefferson hanging in the rafters. People would always be quick to note that he attended the UA.
“Another was Channing Frye,” Terry said. “A lot of those guys that are from Arizona that went to Arizona. I’ve been running into it my whole life.”
Terry aspires to be an NBA player one day, so naturally Arizona became his dream school. He wanted to be like them.
So much so that he recently tweeted a picture of his 8-year-old self wearing a navy Arizona practice jersey in his childhood kitchen, his arms stretched wide and a big grin on his face.
Fast forward a decade and that wingspan is now helping the Wildcats win games. The do-it-all freshman has been stuffing the stat sheet during their 5-0 start, averaging 5.8 points, 4.4 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.6 steals per game.
That makes Terry one of just eight freshmen in the country to register at least 29 points, 22 rebounds, 17 assists and eight steals so far this season. He also has four blocks.
“I think I’ve played good,” Terry said. “But there’s definitely always room for improvement.”
Actually, a lot of room for improvement. Terry is young for a freshman. He just turned 18 in July.
“What that tells you is he’s got huge upside,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “The other part about Dalen is I think his size is very deceptive. He’s been a thin, almost skinny guy growing up here in high school. But Dalen stands almost 6-foot-7 and his wingspan is 7-feet-1. So he’s got really long arms and great size, and he’s starting to get bigger and stronger now. And as he gets bigger and stronger, I think you’ll see that he’s got a really outstanding basketball body that allows him to do a lot of different things, play a lot of different positions.”
Terry played point guard in high school—he attended Tempe’s Corona del Sol High School before transferring to nearby Hillcrest Prep—but starts at small forward for the Wildcats.
Miller can envision Terry playing the 1 eventually, but with the way the roster is constructed right now it just makes more sense for him to play off the ball. The Wildcats are loaded with ball-handlers but not so heavy on wings.
“He really sees the floor well,” Miller said. “He passes the ball well. He’s very unselfish. When he’s in the game, I feel like the ball moves up and down the court and the ball just has an energy about it.”
Defensively, Terry has shown he can play just about anywhere. He is quick enough to check guards and long enough to switch onto forwards. He pairs those physical tools with a high motor and instincts that allow him to soar for weakside blocks and cause havoc in the passing lanes.
“Defense is something that I take pride in,” Terry said. “I feel like if I don’t let my man score on me, that’s just another plus into my bag. Definitely playing team defense and being on the weak side is always good for me. I feel like that’s just something I could do with being 6-7 with a 7-1 wingspan.”
Terry was listed at 190 pounds as a recruit, but said earlier this offseason that he’s added 16 pounds of muscle since arriving at Arizona. That should help his development as a scorer, which isn’t the strength of his game right now. (No pun intended.)
Terry said he never really lifted weights growing up. At least not anywhere close to his regimen now.
“That’s one of the big reasons I came to Arizona, is to get stronger,” he said. “So why not work at it when I’m here? So I’m just trying to do as best I can in the weight room, getting strong as possible to finished through all types of contact and everything else in the game.”
“The speed of the game (is different). And when you go to that basket you better be strong with it. There’s not a lot of easy buckets.”
Terry is still developing as a shooter too. Miller said he was streaky in high school and that’s been the case at Arizona as well. Terry is 3 for 12 from behind the arc at Arizona and went 1 for 7 last game after going 2 for 5 in the first four.
He works on his shooting form with assistant coaches Jason Terry (no relation) and Jack Murphy almost every day.
“My first couple workouts were really rough when it comes to shooting,” Dalen said. “Not a lot of people know that I came off an injury this summer. So me coming to Arizona was like my first couple workouts back, so the first month was real hard for me. And now that I work out with Jason Terry and Jack Murphy a lot, I can feel my shot getting better. I can feel myself getting better every day.”
Terry revealed that he tore his meniscus this summer in a private workout, not that long after his senior season at Hillcrest ended.
He wound up having knee surgery but said it didn’t cause him to miss any time with the Wildcats this preseason, which has been a unique experience due to coronavirus pandemic.
Not necessarily a bad one, though. Terry hasn’t had any trouble finding the positives in the isolated lifestyle that college basketball players are asked to live right now.
“I feel like it’s better for me to be playing during a pandemic than it was before because now I’m more focused,” he said. “Every time I get bored, I go to the gym.”
That kind of work ethic is one of the reasons Arizona recruited Terry so heavily. Well, at least later in his high school career.
“When I first was getting recruited by U of A, they came in the middle of it for a little bit and disappeared,” he said. “That’s when Coach (Justin) Gainey was here. And then they came back real hard. And since they were just an hour away, I felt it was the best decision for me, the best fit for me. It was really easy for me to pick this university as the spot I wanted to go.”
During the recruiting process, Terry remembers seeing UA alumni like Rawle Alkins, Nick Johnson and Dylan Smith at open gyms in Phoenix and they would always say good things about their time at Arizona.
Now Terry is too.
“It’s kind of like a dream come true,” he said. “A lot of guys in Phoenix kind of looked down on me for leaving Phoenix to come to U of A instead of ASU, but it is what it is. I feel I did the best thing for me. I’m living the dream.”