Geary's happy days hard to come by

By Monty Phan

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Reggie Geary is not a man of few words. Not by a long shot.

If anything, he is the polar opposite, a guy who speaks his mind, despite whatever consequences that incurs. He is simply not afraid to talk on the court, off the court, in practice, in the locker room. Last season, it helped him establish himself as a team leader, a loudmouth on a team historically known for its soft-spoken, nice-guy image.

On the court, he was known for his disparaging words as much as he became feared for his defensive wizardry. With Khalid Reeves and Damon Stoudamire running the show, Geary was able to roam virtually free, confined only to the lines on the court and the rules of the game. What he lacked in points he made up for in thievery, recording four steals in five games last year, including against eventual national champion Arkansas in last season's Final Four.

But that was last season.

This season has been different. With Reeves' departure, Geary moved to the two-guard position, taking over at point guard during the rare moments Stoudamire leaves the game. Less freedom, more responsibilty.

Then again, this year was supposed to be different. Geary was supposed to elevate his offense, supposed to build upon his defense, and supposed to fill the void left by Reeves. Somewhere, something went wrong.

"It's a thing (the position change) I was kind of looking forward to this year," Geary said. "With Damon at the point it makes it a lot easier for me because I don't have to worry about a lot of things. He does so much for this team.

"The numbers, they're important, but in my case they're not, because I do so many other things to help this team out. I never wanted to score 20 a night, but I wanted my numbers to progress. I've got to realize those things will come."

Then there was the injury. The junior guard sprained his right ankle at Rhode Island Jan. 7; although he played over 30 minutes the next three games, his eight-minute output against Southern Cal two weeks after the injury was the lowest total of his Arizona career.

The sprain turned into a problem with the nerves in his foot a "24-hour stinger," in Geary's words. It also turned into a sore spot on the team. And then mid

it shut Geary up altogether.

Publicly, teammates said they didn't know what was wrong, just that Geary wasn't the same. His six weeks of silence was completely out of character. The consensus was that Geary was sick of answering questions about his foot. But he said that wasn't the case.

"I was never naive to the situation," Geary said. "As soon as you find out how unimportant you are, how unimportant you become, due to injury or bad playing, it comes out even more. You start realizing things aren't that great."

When he broke his silence, it was one of near celebration. He had come off an 18-point effort against USC in Los Angeles in front of family and friends. He followed that with 13 points against UCLA. Then, against Oregon last Saturday, Olson benched Geary for the final 9:33. Granted, he had four fouls and the Wildcats held a 21-point lead, but Geary thinks it ran deeper than that.

"I sat the last (nine) minutes of the second half, I don't know what that's all about," Geary said. "If he has a problem with me, he needs to address that. It seems he doesn't feel too confident in me right now.

"I have no idea (what to do). You want me to play 'D', I'll play 'D'. You want me to do other things, I can do other things. Right now it's more personal than anything. We just can't get along. (The injury) hasn't been a factor. It was something I was using as a crutch, and (Olson) was using it as an excuse not to play me. It's something that's healed now to where I can play 95 percent."

In Geary's opinion, the relationship with Olson was born of the system. He said there is a "business atmosphere" surrounding the team. He said he has tried to communicate with Olson, but that that's not the way things work.

"I was addressing it to all the other coaches, and they addressed it with me," he said. "You kind of go through a chain of command around here, and mine was pretty much through (assistant coaches Jesse) Evans and (Jim) Rosborough.

"New kids, new breed, that's how it works. When you're young, it seems like you're his best friend, but as soon as you find out you're expendable there's not too much love after that.

"You'd think winning games is the most important thing, but sometimes it isn't. There's more politics than you realize, and sometimes winning games isn't the most important thing. If someone gets their point across and loses a game, then that's the most important thing that day."

Joseph Blair, who also spent time Olson's doghouse, agreed that the system is not conducive to backtalk.

"You just have to keep playing hard, the main thing is to keep your mouth shut," Blair said. "Whatever (Olson) says, just say, 'Yes, sir,' nod, whether you agree or not.

"(Geary) has a pretty big mouth. And if it's not his mouth, he has the most facial expressions of anyone I've ever seen in my life, so that also makes it tough for him. But you have to grin and bear it and remember (Olson) is the one who puts you in the game. That's the only advice I try to give to anybody, don't argue with Coach Olson."

When told of his teammate's comments, Geary laughed.

"It's amazing how I make a lot of expressions with my face and everyone thinks they can read them, and 99.9 percent of the time they're wrong," Geary said. "But that's how I am. I don't hide anything on my faces, but you can't read them, I'll tell you that right now. People might think I'm bitter but I might be the happiest person on the court."

Happy days are hard to come by for Geary these days. He's tried to make the most of his situation with Olson, turning to teammates in the process, whom he calls his "family." Nevertheless, he wonders if things would've been different for him if his junior status wasn't a concern.

"If I was a sophomore I'd be gone," he said. "But I'm not. I'm in a situation where I can't leave now.

"I've never been in a situation like that, where, basically, 'You don't have to show up for practice if you don't want to.' It got like that. I was just down on myself and the world. It's one big learning process. I've been through it, now I know how to handle it next time it comes around."

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