Jason Terry met with the media Friday, taking questions from his cell phone from the passenger seat of his car.
Don’t ask where he was headed.
“I can honestly tell you I’ve never seen this road that I’m on, but I’m actually in town looking for somewhere to stay and I would think this is Oro Valley, but I’m not quite sure,” he laughed. “We are definitely not on I-10. It’s a side road, and I’m not driving so I don’t want to say anything about my wife, but I think she’s lost.”
It’s an apt metaphor for Terry’s return to the desert. He’s well-known around these parts because of his accomplishments as a player, but now he’s forging a new path at Arizona as an assistant coach.
Here are some takeaways from his introductory press conference (if you want to call it that):
Terry isn’t new to coaching
While this is Terry’s first college job, he has been coaching for the last 12 years. Yes, it has only been two years since he retired from the NBA, but he used to use his offseasons to coach AAU girls basketball.
Among the things Terry learned were the ins and outs of the college recruiting process—like understanding NCAA compliance rules and sending test scores to schools.
“Obviously I’m on the other side now, but all that played a part in what I was doing,” he said.
Terry wants to impact lives
Still, Terry was asked why, after making an estimated $108 million in the NBA, he got into coaching—and why he would want to be an assistant at the college level where the hours are long and the money pales in comparison to his days as a player.
Simple, he said. He wants to impact lives.
“I mean, we can say coach, but at the end of the day it’s about impacting these young student-athletes’ lives, giving them guidance, giving them somebody that has been there before, that has done that, who experienced the things that they’re going to experience, and then putting them in position to be successful, not only on the court but in life,” Terry said. “And so that is my purpose. I’m a God-fearing man and God has given me that purpose and it’s something I’ve extremely hard for in preparation for this day.
“I know my family is gonna be like, ‘Ah, you want to go back to something you just retired from?’ But it’s in me. Coaching is something that you have to truly believe in. Yeah there’s gonna be long hours, but the joy and the gratification I get is when I see these young men become fathers, husbands, better sons, college graduates. That’s gonna be the ultimate joy. That’s where I’m going to get my gratification, and at the end of the day when we hoist up end up another national championship in McKale (Center). That’d be a great day.”
Terry initiated the interest in Arizona’s assistant coaching position...almost a year ago
With some help from associate head coach Jack Murphy, Terry had lunch with head coach Sean Miller last September where he express his interest in joining the program and beginning his college coaching career.
Arizona didn’t have a vacancy at the time, but Terry said they had a “great dialogue” anyway. So much so that when a spot did open up, Terry quipped that he was “the first one in line.”
“I’ll tell you that,” he said. “I gotta thank Coach Murph for giving me this opportunity and making my dream become a reality and get me started on my coaching career.”
Terry called Miller to repair their relationship after that controversial tweet
In 2018, Terry called for Arizona to “clean house” after ESPN reported that Miller had discussed paying Deandre Ayton $100,000 to attend the UA.
“We have too much pride, too much tradition to allow outsiders to tear down what we built,” Terry famously tweeted.
But once Terry had time to cool off, he realized the impact his statement had as a former player and apologized to Miller.
“I can’t recall exactly when it was...but I had to call him directly and tell him, ‘look I’m attached to this program as much as anybody. I care about the tradition and history and all that,’” Terry said. “It was an emotional tweet and I told him it was nothing personal towards him at all. So we repaired that situation and Coach and I are definitely on the same page. I’m a huge, huge Sean Miller supporter. What he’s done for our program has cemented his legacy in Arizona Wildcat history, and he will continue to build and I’m just happy to be a part of that building process.”
Terry is looking forward to coaching all of Arizona’s players, but he probably has a favorite
One UA player already holds a special place in Terry’s heart. That’s Seattle U grad transfer Terrell Brown, his godson.
“You’re talking about a kid that I literally changed his diapers,” Terry said.
Though new to Arizona, Brown is already one of its most accomplished players. The 6-foot-1 combo guard averaged 20.8 points, 6.2 rebounds and 4.8 assists with the RedHawks last season, earning all-WAC honors.
To no surprise to Terry.
“He’s proven time and time again at whatever level he’s been that he’s a winner and he can lead a team and he has all the potential to take his game to the next level after this,” Terry said. “So I’m excited and happy for the kid to get an opportunity to play somewhere where I had a great experience.”
More PNW talent on the way?
Terry noted that Arizona used to be a prime destination for Pacific Northwest talent, listing former Wildcats like Marcus Williams, Michael Dickerson and Damon Stoudamire.
But Arizona has only had one major contributor from that area under Miller—Allonzo Trier—so Terry is looking forward to reestablishing that pipeline.
Since a report linked Terry to the UA assistant coaching job, Arizona offered five-star forward Paolo Banchero (Seattle), four-star point guard Nolan Hickman (Seattle) and four-star forward Ben Gregg (Oregon).
“We know it’s a hotbed for recruiting and talent, and so that is definitely one of the areas that I will try to tap into, knowing my presence there, knowing that I’m a guy in that community, in that area that a lot of kids and families look up to,” Terry said. “I’m definitely excited about that.”
Terry can bring a fresh perspective to the program
Terry noted how much basketball has changed since he played in college—and by doing so may have provided some hints as to how he can impact Arizona from a schematic standpoint.
“Offensively the kids now have much more versatility,” Terry said. “There’s not a lot of positions, so we call it positionless basketball. But now you have a day and age where one through four, and possibly even five at times, can really facilitate and get you into your offense. It also gives you versatility on the defensive end in allowing you to do switching, man-to-man concepts, you can throw out a variety of zone defenses. It just makes your attack much more versatile on both ends of the floor, and so watching that, man, I can just tell you, I know we were skilled we played at this level, but these kids nowadays are so much more advanced, and much more well-rounded as far as the skill level is concerned.”
Terry offered his early impression of Arizona’s roster
Terry has been watching a lot of film lately, trying to get a feel for Arizona’s revamped roster. He has been impressed by his players’ versatility and basketball IQ, particularly the international recruits.
“All these guys have played at a high level over in their native countries, so I’m excited, man,” he said.
Terry said the coaching staff has been in regular communication with the players, using Zoom to check in on their mental state and start building bonds.
“We think that’s going to be huge for us because we do have a roster that’s not been together,” Terry said. “So chemistry is something that we’re going to have to build upon every single day but we wanted to start now.”
College players can learn from Terry’s path
Terry’s college career is one that any player can learn from. He improved every season, stayed all four years, willingly accepted a sixth-man role on a national championship team, became a senior leader and, eventually, an NBA lottery pick.
He also returned to college two decades later to complete his degree.
That is a stark difference from how things go at Arizona these days, where the best players rarely stick around for more than a year or two regardless of how much they accomplish in school.
Maybe they will rethink that when they hear what Terry has to say.
“When you’re talking to me I’m an overly confident guy, so I believe if I would’ve came out my junior year after we won the national championship...I think I would have continued to put the work in and I may have had a long career..but I’m telling you that fourth year for me with Coach (Lute) Olson giving me all the confidence to run my own team, to be in charge, to be held accountable for wins and losses and the success of our team, it prepared me,” he said.
“It prepared me for my rookie year, it prepared me for my fifth year when I got to Dallas when I was chosen to replace Steve Nash, and basically for the rest of my career. So I wouldn’t change my direction or path for anything because four years at the University of Arizona, it was tremendous value for me. Not only on the court, but off the court as I became a father, as I became a husband. It just really turned me into a man and what I will be preach to these young student-athletes that come to the UA is that each guy’s journey is different. So I can give you my experiences, but you have to walk the walk, you have to live it. I’ll be that guiding light, but at the end of the day, it’s going to be your turn to take ownership in it. Whatever decision you make, we’ll be here to support you.”