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Mavunga Hopes to Stick With Pacers This Time

by Scott Agness | @ScottAgness

July 3, 2013, 4:30 PM

Brownsburg product Julian Mavunga is back for his second go-round with the Pacers Summer League team. He admitted this time is different, knowing that the team is still searching for depth in the frontcourt.

Last summer, he was a late addition to the Summer League squad because the roster thinned out due to others playing in multiple summer leagues and injuries – most notably, Jeff Pendergraph. Proudly wearing the jersey of his hometown team, Mavunga is out to show – like every other guy – that he can play in the world’s top basketball league.

“My thing is to just come out here and out-work everyone because just like last year, I came out first game and didn’t play at all,” he said. “The second game I played like two minutes. I ended up playing well the last three games so no matter where they start me at, my thing is just to try and out-work everyone else.”

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Because the Pacers already had depth at power forward last fall – David West, Tyler Hansbrough, and Jeff Pendergraph all had guaranteed deals – Mavunga turned down a training camp invitation and instead played overseas in Italy, where he averaged 7.3 points and 4.4 rebounds per game for Angelico Biella.

“It helped me be a better professional,” Mavunga said of his time overseas. “I learned what the pro game is like, learned what I need to do to get to that next level. Even in Italy, there were guys out there that had either been in the league … or could be in the league but decided to come here. It definitely gave me a chance to compete against better players all the time.”

The 23-year-old gained wisdom and perspective, in addition to improving his skills on the court, while competing against fellow pros. Most of all, he focused on getting in better shape.

“If you’re in better shape, you get to play better, you move better and it just really helps you out,” he said.

When Mavunga returned to the states, he began working out at St. Vincent Sports Performance on the Northwest side of Indianapolis, along with Brownsburg High School teammate Gordon Hayward, and Butler alums and NBA hopefuls Andrew Smith and Rotnei Clarke. Mavunga and Hayward even live together up in Zionsville.

Since mid-June, Mavunga and Miles Plumlee, the Pacers’ first-round pick in 2012, have been working out five days a week. They get in around 9 a.m., lift for an hour and then hit the court for about 90 minutes.

“It just gives us an opportunity to work against each other and make ourselves better,” said Mavunga. “He told me what it takes [to make it in the NBA]. You have to keep your head on straight because it can get frustrating when you’re a rookie.”

Both Indiana natives, the two go all the way back to their summer camp and AAU days. Last June when they reunited, Mavunga said they picked up right where they left off.

“The first time I saw him after he was drafted, he came into Summer League last year, the first day I was here we were having laughs, laughing about stuff that happened like five years ago. He’s a really good guy and he’s a really good player. And just like myself, he’s a very hard-working guy that just wants to get better.”

Unlike Plumlee, who has a guaranteed contract, Mavunga must prove himself, which can be particularly difficult when there are 18 other guys on the roster. Summer League head coach Dan Burke expects four to six guys to be dropped before heading down to Orlando Saturday afternoon. Because of their numbers, Burke said they’ll do a lot of 5-on-5 work to give each guy an opportunity and ensure a fair evaluation.

“Oh, it’s intense,” Mavunga said of the competition. “It’s kind of like people know that all 19 guys aren’t going to get playing time so it’s very intense because everyone is trying to come out here and out-work the next guy.

“I’m not focusing on coming out here and trying to score. I’m definitely focusing on things like trying to get rebounds, boxing out, playing intense defense and making sure I don’t take any plays off because I think that for a team like Indiana, that’s really what it takes.”

Burke was encouraged by what he saw from Mavunga last year as he directed the team as well. He’s requesting more of the hard work and consistent play because he noticed that other guys truly feed off of it.

“He knows how to play,” Burke said. “He’s a pretty good power forward, where he can make plays off the dribble and has a real knack for the game. We like him. He’s a solid citizen and a good teammate. He seems to make the game easier for guys. One reason he’s in here to show what he can do but he also makes it easier for Miles, and Orlando [Johnson], and Ben [Hansbrough], and Solomon [Hill], and Donald [Sloan]. We’ll keep an eye on him.”

For Mavunga, he’s most intrigued by the way the Pacers were built. They weren’t a team assembled through trades and big free agent signings, like the Miami Heat, he noted.

“They try to draft their own players, try to bring in a piece and develop it. I think the No. 1 thing they see is development, because development means this guy works hard, he works on his game, he’s improving. So I think they definitely expect to see improvement from what I did last year.”

The competition is fierce as highly skilled athletes showcase their skills in hopes of landing a training camp invite. Mavunga was successful in doing so last year. This time, however, he believes there’s truly an opportunity on the line with the Pacers, who are expected to be one of the NBA’s best teams, yet again.

Note: The Pacers will play five games in the Orlando summer league, which runs July 7-12. All games can be seen on NBA TV and NBA.com.

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