Jason Terry was once committed to the University of Washington, with many reasons to be a Husky. He was born and raised in Seattle, his mother graduated from UW and worked concessions at their games. His cousin was an All-American defensive back there too.
“So my heart was purple and gold,” Terry said in a recent interview on Wildcats Radio 1290.
But his mother had bigger plans. She wanted him to be an Arizona Wildcat, foreseeing it as a stepping stone to a long, successful career.
“My mother just told me, ‘Listen, I know you love Washington, but if you want to be a professional basketball player, the best place for you was at University of Arizona,” Terry said. “At least give them an opportunity to go for a trip. Let me call Lute Olson.’”
“Man, that was the best phone call I’ve ever experienced in my life,” Terry continued. “Lute said, ‘You know what, you’re fortunate because we had two other point guards that we were recruiting. Mike Bibby’s already committed, he’s coming next year. But the two guys we recruited, they decided to go somewhere else. One kid Brandon Lloyd went to UCLA and another kid Eddie Shannon went to Florida. And that opened up a spot.’ So there really wasn’t a spot for me at the University of Arizona. It’s just you’ve got to believe in the higher power working.
“And my good friend Michael Dickerson was already there, so that was a plus for me. But going on my trip on, on my recruiting visit, meeting guys like Kelvin (Eafon), meeting guys like Damon Stoudamire, Khalid Reeves, Joseph Blair, and how seeing how close they were, it was something you wanted to be a part of. I didn’t get that feeling for any other school that recruited me.
“And then you had a head coach that was very personable, but he was stern. I just remember being at practice and he was on Michael Dickerson the whole practice. Like I had never seen that before. But I understood. I had a high school coach that was just like him, so I can relate to it and seeing that relatability was something that I knew I needed. I needed a coach to ride me like he rode a lot of his good players because it was gonna bring the best out of me. ... And obviously the weather. I mean, it was 80 degrees. I’m coming from somewhere that rains every day. That was a big part of that as well. So it was a no-brainer for me.”
No, Terry wasn’t worried about competing for minutes.
“Coach made it very clear,” Terry said. “He said, ‘at the worst JT, you guys will play together. ... [Bibby] may not be here for two or three years, but I know the competitor you are and at the worst you guys will play together. And actually the reason why Lute started recruiting me is because there was a tournament in Phoenix, Mike Bibby was a sophomore in high school, I was a junior, and we went head to head and Lute watched every minute of it. And I literally picked Mike Bibby up full court every possession. I tried to make a statement? He might have had 20 that game but it was the hardest 20 points Mike Bibby ever had. I don’t know if he’ll admit it, but I was at him every possession.”
During the 1996-97 season, Terry, then a sophomore, famously asked Olson if he could come off the bench so that Bibby and Miles Simon, who was coming off a suspension, could start.
Terry eventually developed into an All-American, but knew that they were better players at the time—and that they needed to start for confidence reasons.
“And so for me, it was like, ‘Okay, come off the bench.’ There’s nothing wrong with coming off the bench,” he said. “Because one guy told me when I was in high school... it’s not who starts the game, it’s who finishes. And a lot of times throughout my career whether I started or came off the bench, I was the guy that finished the game. And to me, I have more value in that. Also, there was the [tactical part]. It’s like, ‘OK, starters will be worn down a little bit, so when I come in, just less work I have to do.’ They’ll be worn down a little bit and I can just go full bore and get at them.
“It was all about being selfless, man. Sometimes in life you gotta sacrifice to get to your ultimate goal and it just worked out. Sacrificing for me right there in that instance led us to a national championship.”