In his second season as a full-time starter, Trevor Ariza is shining for NOLA.
by Nima Zarrabi / @NZbeFree
During his first season as a Laker in 2008, Trevor Ariza spent some time guarding Kobe Bryant. Being on the second unit meant giving Bryant a quality look in practice. Ariza laughs when thinking back on the intensity of those days. “Every single time we went up against each other it was a battle, no matter what,” Ariza happily recalls. “Sometimes he got the best of me and sometimes I got the best of him. He wasn’t going to win every single one! I’m just not a player that takes losing very well.”
In his second season with the Lakers, Ariza became a starter and with that role came a new vantage point. He examined Bryant. His study habits, approach to the game and on court tendencies. “I saw all of that,” Ariza says. “The spot he likes the most in the triangle is the pinch post area. He’s good on the wing and in pick and roll situations. Those are his most comfortable spots, even though you can say he is comfortable in all spots.”
In 2000, I along with many other LA hoop fans spent a good amount of time following the high school career of Tyson Chandler. He was a can’t-miss hybrid center that had been hailed nationally ever since a 60 Minutes segment featured him at the age of 14. Despite never living in Compton, Tyson played at Dominguez High school through open enrollment. In the summer time he rocked a jersey for the hottest AAU team in the state: The SoCal All-Stars. Back then, there was absolutely no doubt that Tyson was going pro straight out of high school and that he would enter the NBA as a top pick. He led Dominguez to three state titles and a No. 1 national ranking in 2000. He didn’t even bother faking it, opting against taking the SAT all together. He was selected No. 2 overall pick in the 2001 Draft and afterwards, the chase for the next great LA talent was on. With Tyson gone from Dominguez, the focus shifted toward two L.A. schools: Westchester and Fairfax High. Both schools were sponsored by Nike and had veteran head coaches at the helm. Ariza grew up nearby and Westchester was the high school that his junior high fed into. “Everybody wanted to play for Westchester at that point like back in the day when everyone wanted to play for Dominguez,” Ariza says. “It was kind of the same thing.”
Westchester had 11 Division I prospects on their squad in 2001 and Fairfax boasted L.A.’s next great superstar in Evan Burns and his sidekick, Craig Smith. After a freshman season spent on the Junior Varsity, Ariza was Westchester’s 6th man as a sophomore. He had skills but was still growing. “I was mostly goofy when I was younger having not grown into my body,” he says. “I was about 6-4 in 9th grade. By 10th grade I became more coordinated and was a lot better. Our team had so much talent—we had three starting lineups you could say. That summer after the season I really started getting noticed a lot. A lot of schools started coming to my high school to watch me.”
As a freshman on JV, Ariza drew interest locally from USC, who began recruiting him. But following his sophomore summer, he received a Tarheel Blue letter from UNC that rocked his world. “I was like, Oh my God!” Trevor exclaims. “I couldn’t believe it. I knew it was rare for them to come out to the West Coast and recruit a player, especially at my school. I was like, man this is great!”
His confidence grew with encouragement from his high school coaches and local NBA players. “My high school coaches all told me I was special and could really do something,” Ariza recalls. “Reggie Theus saw me working out in a gym and told me I had a lot of skill and talent. He said if I worked hard and focused I had a chance. Baron Davis told me that when I was really young. Darius Miles, Quentin Richardson, Keyon Dooling—all those guys used to come to our high school games and we developed a friendship way back then. They would even play with us sometimes.”
Similar to Chandler, Ariza was a humble gentleman off the court but a competitive savage on 94 feet of hardwood. Nobody had more support at Westchester games—you could literally hear his mother Lolita screaming his name after every touch. But the dude would never smile on the court. He always had that mean look of sadness that I could never figure out. “I’ve always been overlooked by everybody,” Ariza says. “Even when I was younger, they were all supposedly better than me. So I guess every time I step on the court I feel like I have to go prove it. I have to work for everything I get. I have that attitude that I have no friends on the court. It’s business when I step on the court.”
During his junior year, Westchester won the state championship and was led by state player of the year Hassan Adams. In 2003 with Adams graduated, Ariza led the Comets to another CIF Division I title during his senior year, en route to picking up state POY honors and being named 2nd team Parade All-American. He had always dreamed about going away to college—Florida, Syracuse, North Carolina appealed to him. But when it came time for a decision, the allure of home was too much. “I didn’t think about UCLA until it was late,” Ariza says. “I liked Coach Lavin’s approach to things. He was himself and honest and just told me that if I was good enough to play I would play no matter what year I was.”
Lavin was fired prior to Trevor’s arrival and he went on to put together an impressive freshman campaign, dropping 11.6 pts and 6.5 per, but the Bruins lost 14 of their last 16 games to finish 11-17 in Ben Howland’s first season in Westwood. He was told he could be a lottery pick the following year if he returned to the Bruins for his sophomore season—Ariza chose the NBA Draft instead. “Coach Howland is a great coach but I felt like I needed to get up and down and play in a free system,” he says. “I didn’t want to transfer to another school so I just said I’m going to take my chances and see what happens.”
Ariza believed he could play his way into the first round of the draft through his workouts, which went extremely well. He was putting together quality outings against players who were considered to be lottery picks and was upset when the 1st round passed without his name called, but that wore off when he was picked 43rd overall by the New York Knicks.
“As soon as my name was called, I was happy,” Ariza says. “Nothing is given and not everyone gets to be drafted. You have to be thankful. It made me work harder too. I knew going into camp that my contract was not guaranteed so I had more to work for. Isaiah was the GM at the time. I play the game hard and with a chip on my shoulder. He liked that. He said if I kept it up I would make the team. I did. I made it.”