Nearly 20 years after Jason Terry first stepped on campus, ‘The Jet’ returned to the University of Arizona in February 2015 to take care of some unfinished business.
Yes, there was a jersey retirement ceremony to attend and plenty of old friends to catch up with, but beyond all the gravitas surrounding Terry’s visit to the McKale Center, he had a very practical reason for being in Tucson.
He needed to pick up his diploma.
That college degree, which Terry spent two decades working towards, opened the doors to career opportunities such as the one at his doorstep now: returning to Arizona as an assistant coach.
Here’s why Terry would be a terrific hire:
He is a household name among young players
Despite being 42 years old, Terry is only two seasons removed from a 19-year career in the NBA. Present day high schoolers are old enough to remember when he torched LeBron James and the Miami Heat in the 2011 Finals to give the Dallas Mavericks their first ever championship.
Two years earlier, Terry won the NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award. Fans in Atlanta, Dallas, Boston, Brooklyn, Houston and Milwaukee can all share memories of watching Terry play for their home teams.
Terry, whose playing career transcended the dot com bubble into the age of Twitter and Instagram, is the father of five daughters. He’s plugged into social media and the latest technologies. Coaches of the older generation (Roy Williams, Jim Boeheim and the like) have talked openly about difficulties relating to 18 and 19-year olds. That won’t be a problem for Terry.
He’s an Arizona fan favorite
If you were to poll the favorability of former Wildcats among the UA fan base, Terry would be right near the top alongside Sean Elliott, Steve Kerr and Damon Stoudamire.
Terry is revered for his selflessness, work ethic and swagger. As a sophomore on the 1997 national title team, he embraced his role as a sixth-man who would come in and provide a spark of scoring and energy. Terry bought into Lute Olson’s process and eventually saw his playing time and numbers increase. He left Tucson as one of Arizona’s all-time leaders in points, assists and made 3-pointers.
Terry’s presence on the bench would bring back a lot of nostalgia for Wildcats fans who’ve been turned off by the transient nature of the modern college game or the controversies surrounding the program in recent years. For the 2019-20 season, McKale Center attendance was down to 13,604 tickets sold per game, or more than 1,000 below capacity.
Terry won’t singlehandedly fill the coffers, but he’ll restore enthusiasm among older and younger fans alike, much the way Adia Barnes has done for the women’s program.
His career path is something players can learn from
Terry’s four-year career at Arizona is a relic of a previous era when players were less likely to transfer after not seeing immediate playing time. Terry averaged just 10 minutes per game as a freshman, and as a sophomore conceded a starting spot. A 2012 profile from Seattle Weekly details Terry’s willingness to put his own interests aside.
To illustrate what a team player Terry was, Olson describes what the Wildcats faced at the beginning of the 1996–97 season. Star shooting guard Miles Simon had run into academic trouble the previous year, and was suspended until he could get his grades up.
“He couldn’t play in games, but he could work out with us,” recalls Olson. “Then we got him back and he played in a couple of games. JT came in to see me. ‘Coach,’ he says, ‘We’ve got to get Miles back in the starting lineup.’”
Olson explained to Terry why that was going to be a problem.
“I couldn’t sit Mike Bibby. That would destroy his confidence,” Olson said.
Terry responded: “Well, I can sit. I like coming off the bench anyway.”
“And there weren’t too many guys who would take that approach. He was just concerned with helping the team,” Olson said. “I think that’s typical JT. He’s always looking at the big picture, looking at the team, never looking at his own stats.”
“I remember that conversation very vividly,” Terry says today. “And I was having a great year. We were ranked, we had a lot of success, but for the betterment of the team someone was going to have to come off the bench.”
Terry’s attitude toward team success over individual accolades spawned a national title run in college and an NBA Championship as a member of the Mavericks. Sean Miller likes to tell his players to “trust the process.” Now he’ll have someone on his staff who can attest to that philosophy better than anyone.
Terry’s Seattle roots run deep
When Seattle grad transfer Terrell Brown committed to Arizona earlier this month, Terry was among the first to congratulate him on Twitter. “We got a game changer,” Terry wrote.
Brown, Terry’s godson, was the first Seattle-grown player to join Miller’s program since Allonzo Trier, but he probably won’t be the last if Terry has his way. Arizona is after two Seattle-area prospects in the 2021 class: forward Paolo Banchero and point guard Nolan Hickman. Not so coincidentally, Arizona only began expressing interest in those players over the past couple weeks, after former UA assistant Justin Gainey left for Marquette.
Recruiting Seattle prospects away from Seattle is a tough sell, but if anyone can do it it’s Terry. He himself originally committed to the University of Washington as a senior at Franklin High School, but later spurned the Huskies for the sunnier skies of Tucson.
Terry brings with him a wealth of basketball experience
Throughout Terry’s near quarter-century long career playing high level basketball, he absorbed lessons from some of the game’s top coaches. His first NBA coach, Lenny Wilkins of the Atlanta Hawks, would go on to be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Lon Kruger and Terry Stotts also coached Terry in Atlanta, and Stotts would lead The Jet to an NBA Championship in Dallas in 2011.
In Dallas, Terry also learned from the winningest coach in NBA history, Don Nelson. Terry later played for Doc Rivers in Boston, Kevin McHale and J.B. Bickerstaff in Houston, and Jason Kidd in Milwaukee.
Terry recently coached his daughter’s AAU team, Drive Nation, as well as the girls varsity team at North Dallas Adventist Academy. Additionally, Terry worked as an on-air personality for FOX Sports Southwest’s coverage of Mavericks games and served as assistant general manager for the Texas Legends NBA G-League team.