In two games in the Olympics -- and against two of the best teams in the competition, the U.S. and Lithuania -- Puerto Rico's Carlos Arroyo has quickly emerged as one of the top players in the tournament. The Jazz point guard has repeatedly set the crowd and media abuzz with his darting drives to and deadeye accuracy from beyond the 3-point stripe. Only 25, the floor general of the surprising Puerto Rican team is averaging 24.5 points, 3.0 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 3.50 steals so far in the Olympic tournament. He's also hit 10-of-20 3-pointers in his team's two games. NBA.com caught up to the rising international star in Athens. Here's what he had to say about beating the U.S. and what his Olympic experience means to his career in the NBA.
Was the win over the U.S. the best game of your career?
Arroyo: "One of them. I think that it was a big game for all of us, for all the athletes on the team, as far as one of the biggest games in our careers. As far as accomplishing a big goal in terms of winning a big game? Yeah, I think it's the best result we could've hoped for. At that moment, we weren't just representing Puerto Rico, but we were representing the world. Everybody wants to beat the U.S. because of their great talent and their NBA players, so I think we did a great job. It was a big game for us, definitely."
What about you personally? You had 24 points in the win and really kept the U.S. on their heels with your ball-handling.
Arroyo has emerged as a fan-favorite in Athens.
"You know, I did whatever I had to do to help my team win. I was very happy with the job I did of running the team and keeping the tempo at a pace where we could control the game. I think that's my job; to control the tempo and get my teammates open. I think that's what I did."
Have you done anything different with your conditioning? You look like one of the fastest players on the floor this summer.
Arroyo: "Well, it's probably the altitude in Utah. (Laughs.) It gets me tired faster than here. But not really, we run a lot. I'm a little bit leaner than when I'm playing in Utah."
You mean under Jerry Sloan?
Arroyo: "Yeah. Well, we run a lot for Jerry too. But we run a lot [for the Puerto Rican team] too. I don't know, I guess I've been working really hard this summer. I've been dealing with injuries here and there, but it's been a great summer for us."
What do you think this Olympic experience does for you heading into next season with the Jazz?
Arroyo: "Well, it gives me a lot of experience. A lot of confidence. It helps me understand the game better, so hopefully I can help the Jazz make the playoffs this year. You know, [Utah is] a very, very talented team this year. The expectations are very high. We have a better team than we did last year, and I know people are going to expect us to do a better job. Getting experience here and doing whatever I need to do helps me."
In this tournament, you're emerging as one of the top guards in the world. Maybe next year's an All-Star season for you back in the NBA?
Arroyo: "(Laughs.) That's one of my dreams, but I'm a long way from that. I believe I need to learn a lot more from the game and get better every day. But that's one of my goals."
Have you talked to Carlos Boozer at all since you've both been in Greece?
Arroyo: "Yeah, we've talked. But he's with his team and I'm with my team, so we don't really talk to each other a lot. But when we see each other, one of the things I tell him is 'Stay healthy, we need you this year.' And he tells me the same thing."
Your teammate, shooting guard Larry Ayuso, has also been playing exceptionally well. Is this the kind of thing that could propel him into the NBA?
Arroyo: "Larry can shoot the heck out of the ball, like a lot of good NBA players. He faces a size challenge to play [shooting guard], but I think he's a great shooter for the NBA, and I think he's going to have a chance to prove that he belongs in the NBA. It's not up to anybody but himself to understand that he needs to work really hard every day on his game to get better, and understand that the NBA game is a little different game. It's a very tough game, and it's up to nobody else but him."
So what are the biggest differences to you between the NBA and the international game? Are the differences as pronounced as everyone says?
Arroyo: "Yeah, definitely. I think the international game is very tough. The NBA is tough, but I think the international game is another type of game, and if you're not used to playing internationally, then you really need to get that experience by playing tournaments here and there. I think the USA team can tell you that; that it's very difficult to play international ball. It's more physical, and the referees don't rely on whistles nearly as much. They allow more contact and more physical play, and [Arroyo and Puerto Rico] understand that, and I think the USA understands that now."