Saturday, July 18, 2009 | 2:25 a.m.
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Most rookies at the NBA Summer League learn that pro ball is whole different game compared to what they just came from playing.
Memphis Grizzlies forward Darrell Arthur was no different last summer in Las Vegas.
But his true eye-opening experience came about six weeks later.
Arthur, who was selected 27th overall in the 2008 NBA draft by New Orleans before four draft-night deals landed him with the Grizz, didn't make the greatest early impression when he was sent home early along with former Kansas teammate Mario Chalmers from the NBA Rookie Training Camp in New York.
The dismissal came after police responded to the hotel room the two shared at 2 a.m. and reported that the room carried a strong smell of marijuana. Arthur denied drug-related involvement but was fined $20,000 by the NBA for missing the camp.
He'll have to repeat the camp this September, but this time will have a much different mindset.
"I learned right off the bat that it was going to be a business as opposed to just playing for fun," Arthur said. "I got fined for the rookie transition thing, and that kind of opened my eyes up right there. Ever since then, I took it as straight business. I knew it wasn't a game anymore."
In his first game at the 2009 NBA Summer League, Arthur misfired on a short baseline jumper, immediately letting out an expletive at the top of his lungs.
For anyone who watched the 6-foot-9 power forward — known as "Shady," partially for his quiet overall demeanor — it would have caused a double-take.
The rest of his game caused the same reaction. Never one in the past to show much emotion on the floor, he's turned over a new leaf in this year's trip to Las Vegas, with a vocal, outgoing presence to go along with his new high-energy style.
"I kinda know what's going on," he said. "Last year, I didn't know what to expect just coming in. Didn't know what was going on, really. This year, it's kind of a slower-paced game for me, really."
Arthur credits seeing things at a slower speed to what was a true roller coaster of a rookie season.
The 6-foot-9 forward started 59 of the 76 games he played in, but his role was never set in stone. Some games, he would play early, then disappear from the rotation. Despite the starting power forward title, he averaged just 5.6 points and 4.6 rebounds while playing less than 20 minutes per game.
It was a similar Arthur who, in two years at Kansas, took a back seat to stars such as Chalmers, Brandon Rush, Julian Wright and others in terms of being leaned on as a go-to guy.
It was those long stints spent in his warmups when he would watch veteran forwards, such as Hakim Warrick, and pick up any little pieces he could.
"I was seeing how he played, watching how he would take his time on the block offensively, how he was positioning himself defensively," Arthur said. "I kind of took that home over the summer and thought about it. I started thinking about the game more. I slowed myself down and am trying to play like those guys."
At the same time, Arthur became close with veteran forward Greg Buckner, who led a low-key lifestyle. Arthur and Buckner became regular pals, spending time together off the floor but rarely going out at night, instead focusing on the chores at hand.
When a disappointing regular season came to a close, it was at the request of the Grizzlies' coaching staff that Arthur headed home to Dallas and took the first true break from basketball that he could remember having in ages.
"This was the first time I got away from basketball, and I needed to," Arthur said. "Coach (Lionel Hollins) told me to go home and relax, and just work on slowing down. When I came back, I was ready to work. It was pretty helpful."
When Arthur went to work, it was in a new role, as the Memphis staff told him he needed to be the resident "energy guy."
On draft night this year, the Grizzlies went for size.
WIth the second overall pick, they selected 7-foot-3 center Hasheem Thabeet out of Connecticut. Later in the first round, they went with Missouri small forward Demarre Carroll and added swingman Sam Young in the second round.
He's also battling fellow second-year big man Marc Gasol and newly-acquired power forward Zach Randolph for positioning in the rotation.
If the writing wasn't on the wall before the draft that Arthur needs to step up, then it's scrawled in big, giant, colorful graffiti right now.
Arthur got the message.
Through three games in his second stint in Vegas, Arthur is averaging 14.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2 blocks for the 3-0 Grizzlies, who have games both Saturday and Sunday remaining to close out their slate. His best showing so far came on Tuesday in a 90-86 victory over the Knicks, where he registered 22 aggressive points, 6 rebounds and 3 blocked shots.
More important than the numbers, though, is Arthur's new-found vocal presence and non-stop motor. He's playing like an animal, which is a start in living up to the organization's expectations.
"He needs to do that from the time the game starts," Grizzlies assistant coach Dave Joerger told the Memphis Commercial Appeal earlier in the week. "He needs to fly around. That's going to be his niche on our team. ... So far he's playing hard, hustling down balls and blocking shots from behind. His motor needs to run like that all of the time."
Arthur will more than likely continue to man the starting power forward spot for the Grizzlies through the weekend, and will again have to scratch and claw for minutes when the regular season rolls around.
That means the Darrell Arthur of the 2009 summer league will have to stick around if he wants to hold his own.
"I've been quiet all my life," Arthur said. "They want me to be a leader for these guys. They want me to be vocal and lead on the court. I'm just trying to be that man."