Saras, Baston Hope To Rekindle Title Chemistry
When they last were teammates, Sarunas Jasikevicius and Maceo Baston comprised two-fifths of the lineup of one of the most dominant teams in EuroLeague history. Jasikevicius was the high-profile legend, the engine that drove the Maccabi Tel Aviv dynasty. Baston's energy provided much of the fuel.
Together again with the Pacers, they hope to reprise their team success, albeit in different individual roles.
"In Israel, we had a lot of pressure on us to win every game," said Baston, an athletic 6-9 forward who signed with the Pacers in July as a free agent. "Whether it was a 15-0 team or an 0-15 team, every game was the most important game of the season. That has kind of grown on me over the last three years and that's what I want to bring here. I know it's a lot more games and it's impossible to win every game, but just to go into every game with the mentality and attitude to try to win is definitely a good start."
After an up-and-down rookie season, Jasikevicius had a busy summer, marrying former Miss World Linor Abargil and maintaining a rigorous conditioning program aimed at giving him the durability to extend his productivity throughout the longer NBA schedule. Uncertain of what to expect last year, Jasikevicius has a much clearer focus this time around.
"The first year is difficult in any kind of office," he said. "In this office, it's even more difficult, not really understanding what you have to go through. In that way, it should be a little more positive for me."
The knowledge gained last season, along with the improved conditioning and the team's shift toward a freer-flowing offense that more closely resembles the European style, should allow Jasikevicius to look much more like himself, rather than a player trying to fill a mold.
"Look, hopefully I will get opportunities a little bit to be more aggressive, to be sort of risking more, in a way, you know what I mean?" he said. "At the same time, I don't know how much of that is permitted out of the backup point guard. We'll see. "
Baston, 31, is a former Michigan standout who had only brief stints in the NBA. After establishing himself as a star in Europe, team with Jasikevicius to win consecutive EuroLeague titles, he wanted the opportunity to prove himself at the highest level. A superb athlete who runs and jumps very well – he has waged some eyebrow-raising duels with Jermaine O'Neal thus far in camp – Baston is well-suited, physically, for the NBA.
Like Jasikevicius a year ago, Baston isn't completely sure what role awaits, but he's ready for just about anything.
"I'm going to be like putty," he said. "Put me in wherever the cracks are and let me just fill in where I can."
EX-MAVS NOT PLAYING LIKE EXTRAS
Little was known about Josh Powell and Rawle Marshall when they were obtained from Dallas, along with veteran point guard Darrell Armstrong, in the Anthony Johnson trade. The common public perception was the two young players were simply added to the deal to make it work for salary-cap purposes. Both, however, have impressed the Pacers since arriving weeks before training camp to begin their workouts.
A rugged 6-9 power forward with a relentless approach, Powell has made a strong case for a roster spot. Jermaine O'Neal, who must battle him regularly in practice, has described him as "a better (Udonis) Haslem."
"He's very physical, does a lot of good things around the basket in terms of rebounding the ball," said Coach Rick Carlisle. "He can consistently make mid-range shots so you have to guard him. He's a horse. He hits the ground six or eight times during every practice and always gets back up and gets back into it. He's a tough-minded guy."
Undrafted in 2003 after his sophomore season at N.C. State, Powell spent most of the next two seasons in Italy before landing with the Mavericks for 37 games last season.
"You definitely have to be on top of your game and make sure you bring it every day – practice, workouts, weightlifting, everything," he said. "You just go hard and be dedicated to everything you do."
The 6-7, 190-pound Marshall began his college career at Ball State but transferred to Oakland for his final three seasons. He played 23 games with the Mavs, earning a reputation as a defensive-minded player. Because the Pacers have two players of similar profile (Marquis Daniels and James White) ahead of him on the depth chart, Marshall faces an uphill battle to earn a roster spot with the Pacers but is well on the way to establishing himself as a legitimate NBA prospect.
"It's going to be tough," Marshall said. "I'll just approach like I've been playing basketball all my life. I'll go out there and try to play hard. That's all I can do."
BIG AL LACING 'EM UP
Could a second sport be beckoning Al Harrington? The Pacers' forward has been using a boxing workout to assist with his offseason conditioning for basketball and likes it so much he'd like to line up a bout. But it'll have to wait until his NBA career is over.
"I've always boxed and lately I've been taking it real serious," Big Al said. "I want to start sparring but I can't never get clearance from none of my teams. So it'll have to be a hobby for now but, hopefully after I'm done, I'll have a little bit left and I can have a fight."
Chances are, even by the time Harrington retires from basketball, Mike Tyson will still be shopping around for a payday.