All-Star honor signals arrival for Hibbert, return for Pacers



Feb. 9, 2012 - One word, three exclamation points:

"Wow!!!"

Roy Hibbert's Twitter post said it all.

In his fourth season, the 7-2 center from Georgetown earned his first All-Star berth, named an Eastern Conference reserve Thursday night when the coaches' voting was revealed on TNT.

Hibbert's selection is a dual reward, recognition for a player who has methodically improved thanks to a relentless work ethic, and for a team that has succeeded with a style built on the collective rather than the individual.

Hibbert has arrived. The Pacers are back.

His numbers aren't gaudy (13.9 points, 9.9 rebounds, 1.8 blocked shots, .509 field goal percentage) but they reflect consistent growth. A player that often was pushed around in his first couple of seasons has become much more the aggressor this year. It could be the added muscle, it could be the offseason work with Tim Duncan, or it could just be the natural evolution of a more mature, confident player.

Whatever the case, Hibbert has become a force. He is the team's 11th NBA All-Star, the third center (following Rik Smits in 1998 and Brad Miller in 2003).

Michael Grady, who doubles as a morning radio host on 1070 the Fan and the Pacers' public address announcer, asked me to fill in for him as Joe Staysniak's partner on the morning show this week. It was both a clever strategic move by Grady, who thus assured the listeners would miss him more than ever, and an opportunity for me to use the radio platform to talk about my favorite subject.

Graciously appearing on the program, both team President Larry Bird and Coach Frank Vogel had strong comments on Hibbert's candidacy, and what an All-Star selection might mean to the still-young big man.

"With Roy, it'll mean a lot," Bird said. "When his confidence is high, he plays well. He's had a great year. He deserves it. If you look around, he's really the second-best center in the Eastern Conference."

Vogel had to be pleased to see both player and team rewarded by his fellow coaches.

"Nobody deserves it more," he said. "Nobody works harder than him or cares more about his team or his game than Roy and he's really improved. He's become a legitimate center in this league and he's very deserving."

The most encouraging thing is the reality that Hibbert is really just getting started.

In his fourth season, Smits lost the starting position -- twice -- to Greg Dreiling. He became an All-Star caliber player in 1994-95, his seventh season, and finally achieved that status in 1997-98. Smits, of course, had the great misfortune of playing in an era of great centers in the East -- Shaquille O'Neal, Patrick Ewing and Alonzo Mourning were perennial All-Stars during those years -- whereas Hibbert's chief competition is Dwight Howard.

The greater point being: if you like Hibbert now, you're going to love him in a couple of years.

"When you're as driven as Roy Hibbert is and he's very self-motivated and self-driven, I don't know if you reach a ceiling four years into his career," Vogel said. "Most players' primes are between four years and nine years so I think the next four or five years or so are going really be the best of Roy Hibbert."