Arcain, Janeth: 1969—: Professional Basketball Player

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Janeth Arcain: 1969: Professional basketball player

South American players are rare in professional basketball, whose practitioners from outside the sport's U.S. home-land tend to come from Europe or Africa. But Houston Comets guard Janeth Arcain, a veteran Brazilian player, emerged as a Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA) star in 2000. Arcain's rise to prominence was a study in persistence; after several years as a participant but not a leader of the Comets's WNBA dynasty, Arcain made the most of her moment in the spotlight.

Janeth Arcain was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on April 11, 1969. Arcain and her younger brother, Danilo, suffered after their parents separated when Janeth was six years old, and she turned to sports as a youngster. Arcain played volleyball and the Brazilian national sport of soccer for a time, but the 1983 basketball world championships, held in Sao Paulo, caught her attention. Within a couple of years she was hooked, and by 1986 she was playing on a South American championship team.

Won Olympic Silver Medal

Excelling in international competition, Arcain was a member of Brazil's Pan American Games teams in 1987, winning a silver medal, and in 1991, taking home a gold medal. She played for Brazil's Olympic team in 1992 and experienced her greatest thrill up to that time when she returned in 1996 and Brazil won the Olympic silver medal. "It's the first Olympic medal Brazil ever won [in basketball]," Arcain told the Houston Chronicle. "Mine is hanging in the office at my home."

Arcain played eight seasons of professional basketball in Brazil, six for the Polti team, and two for one called Leite Moca. Essentially, she dominated the league. She has been named the Brazilian Most Valuable Player every year she has been active, and was the league's top scorer in 1995 and 1996. She rented an apartment on Rio de Janeiro's magnificent beachfront. Arcain's Brazilian career continued even after she came to the U.S. and began playing for the Cometsa transition that presented special challenges. Even the ball in Brazilian play is a slightly different size from that in the American game. And when she came to the United States in 1997, she spoke very little English, although she was fluent in Spanish in addition to her native Portuguese.

Most important, Arcain as a WNBA player was just one of a multitude of talented players. Chosen 12th in the WNBA expansion draft, she was obviously a player for whom the Comets had high expectations. "Back in Brazil, they look for me to score," Arcain told the Houston Chronicle. "I average about 26 or 27 points a game." In Arcain's first season with the Comets, playing the position of small forward, she averaged 10.7 points per gameand that was her top performance until the 2001 season.

At a Glance . . .

Born on April 11, 1969, in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Career: Played soccer and basketball before taking up basketball in 1983; played professional basketball in Brazil, beginning in late 1980s; played for Brazilian team in Pan American Games, 1987, 1991; played for Brazil in Olympics, 1992, 1996, 2000; played on Brazilian World Championship teams, 1990, 1994; signed by Houston Comets, 1997, member of WNBA Champion Comets teams, 1997-00.

Awards: Silver Medal, Olympics, 1996; Gold Medal, World Championship, 1994; Named WNBA's Most Improved Player, 2001; named to WNBA All-Star First Team, 2001.

Addresses: Office Houston Comets, Two Greenway Plaza, Ste. 400, Houston, TX 77046-3865.

Benched as Comets Star Returned

Arcain started every game but one in the 1997 season, ranking second in the WNBA in free-throw percentage and turning in an especially strong performance in the postseason playoffs. The 1997 campaign would mark the first of an amazing four consecutive championships for the Comets, but Arcain's role changed in subsequent seasons as forward Sheryl Swoopes, Arcain's nemesis in Brazil's 1996 Olympic final loss to the United States, returned to the Comets's lineup after a pregnancy leave. Arcain found herself in an unfamiliar spoton the bench.

"Yeah, it affects me," Arcain admitted to the Chronicle. "All players like to play. To us, it's good to play 40 minutes. But on our team, we have a lot of great players." The situation was especially frustrating for a woman whose identity was so wrapped up in the game of basketball. Arcain thrived on recognition and attention from fans. "All my friends tell me, 'You should be tired of that. Everybody recognizes you. You should be scared to go outside,'" Arcain told the Chronicle. "But no, I like that. If I stopped doing that, probably I would die, because this is my life. Basketball is my life. It's what I like to do."

Indeed Arcain continued playing in Brazil, putting her on virtually a year-round schedule. She often missed part of the preseason Comets's training campwhich wasn't a problem in terms of physical conditioning, but it did impede her ability to quickly fit in with the flow of her teammates' game in Houston. The challenge for Arcain, and for Houston coach Van Chancellor, was to develop her abilities anew so that she could fit into a variety of roles on the court. An experiment in putting Arcain in the play-making point guard position was disappointing, but Arcain persevered, rather than adopting the play-me-or-trade-me attitude that other players might have.

Broadened Her Skills

Arcain averaged twenty minutes per game in the 1998 season, scoring 6.5 points per game, and there were signs that she was beginning to develop a new all-around game. "If there was an award in this league for Sixth Man, it would have to be Janeth," Chancellor told the Chronicle. Over the next few seasons, Arcain developed a reputation as a quiet pillar of the Comets squad, as a player who often came off the bench at crucial moments or scored a game-winning point, yet was often upstaged by her flashier teammates. Through it all, Arcain rededicated herself to the mastery of new skills and to a spirit of teamwork. By the end of the 2000 season, in which she averaged 8.4 points per game, Arcain was appearing more and more often in the position of point guard.

Finally, in 2001, Arcain returned to the starting lineup, and all the pieces fell into place. "Until this year, I've just waited for my time," she told the Chronicle. "There were times when I wasn't so happy here. But I always told myself that this is my job, this is what I have chosen to do." Arcain gained her own coterie of fans in Houston, experienced the excitement of playing in the WNBA All-Star Game, and scored a career-high 29 points in a July game against the Utah Starzz. At the season's end she was named the league's Most Improved Player and was selected for the All-WNBA first team, picking up a $10,000 check for the honor.

She was the fourth-leading scorer in the league with 18.5 points per game and ranked seventh in steals; she was noted as a fine defensive player overall. Arcain planned to retire from basketball after playing one more time for Brazil in the 2004 Olympics. In the meantime, American basketball fans seemed likely to find greater and greater enjoyment in her efforts on the court.



Houston Chronicle, June 9, 1997, p. Sports-7; July 12, 1997, p. Sports-8; July 6, 1998, p. Sports-1; August 1, 1998, p. Sports-1; May 27, 2000, p. Sports-2; June 12, 2000, p. Sports-7; June 23, 2000, p. Sports-6; July 1, 2000, p. Sports-1; May 22, 2001, p. Sports-9; June 2, 2001, p. Sports-4; June 23, 2001, p. Sports-1; July 16, 2001, p. Sports-1; August 19, 2001, p. Sports-4; August 31, 2001, p. Sports-14.

USA Today, July 16, 2001, p. C3.


James Manheim