Fesenko adds depth, defense to frontcourt rotation

March 24, 2012 -- Less than 30 minutes before tipoff Friday night, Kyrylo Fesenko clearly wanted to be somewhere other than in the hallway outside the locker room talking to members of the media.

"It's hard for me to stand out here talking to you guys when everybody else is right now on their way on the court," he said. "I want to play, honestly, I just want to play. I want to win. This is why I play basketball. Losing is not an option."

How big a role Fesenko ultimately plays as the Pacers chase homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs remains to be seen but the 7-1, 280-pound center from the Ukraine will bring needed size and depth -- not to mention desire -- to the frontcourt.

"I don't anticipate in the short-term him taking anybody's spots in the rotation," Coach Frank Vogel said. "We feel good about the guys we have at the big spots but obviously when you're in a playoff push you could always have injuries late in the season and to have a big body like that to protect yourself is always of value.

"We're playing Lou (Amundson) at the backup center and he's doing a phenomenal job there. We're really happy with what he's bringing to the table but it's just a different element bringing a guy in of that size. If you have a certain matchup in the playoffs, then he might be able to give something that Lou or Pendergraph doesn't give."

Amundson has indeed given the Pacers a nice lift off the bench but at 6-9, 225 pounds is battling a size disadvantage most every night. Pendergraph is a bit stockier at 6-9, 240, but has been playing catch-up since battling injury issues early in the season.

Enter Fesenko, who has four years of NBA experience as a backup with Utah. A free agent because he was rehabbing an injury to his left knee sustained while playing for the Ukraine during Eurobasket this past Fall, Fesenko was close to a deal with Golden State in late December but that fell through. He subsequently attracted interest from a number of teams including Miami, Milwaukee, Atlanta, Chicago and Boston but opted to sign with the Pacers.

"I'm so happy to be in the league, I'm so happy to finish the recovery and I'm just really looking forward … I'm speechless, I'm excited," he said. "Come on, guys, I just met Larry Bird for the first time. This is so awesome. I shake his hand."

Fesenko has established a reputation as a very strong post defender. In analyzing the stats heading into the season, ESPN's John Hollinger wrote "the best-kept secret in the NBA right now is Fesenko's monstrous defensive stats. It's not that one or two metrics point out his defensive value; it's that all of them do, without any pointing to the contrary."

Hollinger pointed out that Synergy Stats rated Fesenko as the No. 2 defender in the league last season, after ranking him No. 1 in 2009-10.

Fesenko understands what he brings to the team.

"Play hard, play on defense, show my best effort on defense, play physical, that's basically what I do best," he said. "Rebound, set screens, occasionally I may have a putback or a quick-pass dunk.

"They will not ask me to shoot 3-pointers, that is for sure."

So in addition to being big, strong and experience -- not to mention a first name that is as difficult to pronounce as to spell, hence the nickname "Fes" -- he has a sense of humor.

Notes

If it's March, somebody must be reporting that Larry Bird is going to step down after the season. This time, Pete Vecsey of the New York Post published the report, citing a source "very much in the know" that Bird "definitely will not return" for the 2012-13 season. Bird denied the report. "No decision has been made, end of story," he said through a spokesman. Similar reports surfaced late in the 2010-11 season and Bird did consider retiring but opted to come back. He has a handshake agreement with team owner Herbert Simon to remain as long as he wants.

Jeff Foster's decision to announce his retirement this week created the need for another big body. Foster has been plagued by back problems the past three years and appeared in just 11 games this season. Vogel would like the 13-year veteran to remain with the team at least through the end of the season. "I would like him to be around the team as much as possible, practices, film sessions, just keeping an eye on things, using his experience and his leadership and his voice in the locker room," Vogel said. "I'd like to still have that throughout the rest of the season."

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