Confidence Man A kids' book and a new position have transformed the Hawks' Jason Terry

January 08, 2001

Confidence counts. Jason Terry knows this well, and not only
because he has read the children's book bearing that title by
the noted belletrist Gary Payton more times than he can
remember. Touted as the Hawks' point guard of the future after
being picked 10th in the 1999 draft, Terry failed to crack the
starting lineup until two thirds of the way through his rookie
season. He began this year averaging just 8.1 points and 5.3
assists as Atlanta lost its first seven games, and was replaced
at the point by journeyman Matt Maloney. "My confidence drifted
up and down, game by game," says Terry. "This season it hurt a
little more. The first time I could say I'm a rookie. Now it's
my second year, and my people at home are going, 'What's going
on? Are they gonna trade you or what?' It was tough."

After five games coming off the bench, he was given a chance to
redeem himself when shooting guard Jim Jackson suffered a knee
injury. Strapped for an offensive threat, rookie coach Lon Kruger
called on Terry, who had averaged 21.9 points as a senior at
Arizona. Freed from running the offense, Terry was averaging 22.1
points and 5.6 assists as a starting two guard through Tuesday
and had scored a career-high 38 points in a Dec. 12 win over the
Kings. What's more, the Hawks were 9-10 in that stretch.

At only 6'2" and 176 pounds, Terry has acquitted himself well
defensively against much larger opponents, using his quickness to
front players who try to post him up. Kruger hasn't abandoned
plans to make a point guard out of Terry--even after the trade of
Jackson to the Cavaliers on Tuesday for playmaker Brevin
Knight--but now he can ease him into the position. "He's too
conscientious," says Kruger of Terry's shortcomings at the point.
"He wants everything to be right, he wants everything to work, he
wants to do everything to help the team, and I think he worries
about all that stuff instead of playing."

In Terry's new role his primary concern is looking out for No. 1.
"When I go in as a point guard, I'm like, How can I get my four
man a shot this time down?" says Terry. "As the two man my
mind-set is to score, and score first."

To do so takes explosiveness to the hole, a deft touch from the
outside and plenty of confidence. Terry has always had the first
trait, he hones the second by shooting 500 jumpers after every
practice, and he has exuded the third of late, thanks in part to
the lessons he has absorbed from pick-me-up perusals of Payton's
40-page opus, which he bought a couple of years ago and keeps in
his locker. Seeking wisdom from a kids' book might seem quirky,
but quirkiness is the norm for Terry. As a youngster in Seattle
he began wearing knee-high socks, a fashion sin he commits to
this day. At Arizona he slept in his uniform during the 1997
Final Four. Of late he has taken to wearing wool stocking caps.
"I said I wasn't going to get a haircut until we won two in a
row," says Terry. "I couldn't brush my hair or comb it, so I just
put on a hat to cover it up."

Despite a recent four-game Atlanta winning streak, Terry has
disdained a haircut and continued to sport the caps out of
superstition. Still, he has learned a valuable lesson. Good-luck
charms are nice, but they don't count nearly as much as
confidence.

--Mark Bechtel

COLOR PHOTO: GREG FOSTER

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