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Players Provide Guidance at Lilly Boys & Girls Club

by Scott Agness

October 23, 2012

There was a line of kids in the gymnasium, patiently waiting for Boomer's autograph.

There were Orlando Johnson and Jeff Pendergraph in the kitchen, serving food and drinks to about one-hundred kids on hand.

Photos from Event: Gallery 1 »   Gallery 2 »

There was Roy Hibbert watching some kids play NBA2K12. One kid played with the Pacers and fed the ball to the video-game version of Hibbert a lot in the post to score. Hibbert, a big video game guy himself, laughed and said, "Got me right except for the haircut."

There was David West standing in the arcade area, showing a few kids how to play pool.

There was Tyler Hansbrough in the gym, playing "knockout" with the kids, of course.

And there was George Hill in the cafeteria with his back against the wall, arms folded, fielding questions from about 10 kids that stared up at him.

This day was meaningful for the six Pacers players that visited the Lilly Boys & Girls Club on the east side of downtown. But it was probably more meaningful for the boys and girls that were able to meet some of their idols.

"It's fun to come in and do this stuff," Jeff Pendergraph said of the NBA Cares event. "A lot of people wouldn't think it makes an impact but you come in here, do this little stuff, take a little time out of your day and see how much it affects these kids.

"When you walk in the door, they get all excited. Many have said, 'Man, I've never met a Pacers player before! This is so cool!' Just to do this kind of stuff and give back is great for them and you can tell they enjoy and love it. It's awesome for us, as it's such a good feel to give back and see people really appreciate it."

This event Wednesday, in support of National World Food Day, marked the start of a month-long community service project at Pacers Sports & Entertainment to collect non-perishable food items for those in need. It was more than just the project. It was about the kids, most of who are in difficult situation and receive free or reduced lunches.

On a day like this, frowns subsided and smiles were plentiful.

"They're having the best time," said Rick Whitten, the Executive Director of Boys & Girls Clubs of Indianapolis. "They have been so excited for several days, waiting for this to happen. These are people they look up to and see on T.V. And how many kids get to see them in person?"

Visiting a Boys & Girls Club holds an extra meaning to a couple Pacers on hand – Roy Hibbert was part of one as a child, and so was Indianapolis-native George Hill. In addition to the food being served and games being played, there were discussions with the players that may leave a lasting impression on the kids.

"I was talking to a couple of young ladies here, 9 years old and saying they have boyfriends," Hill explained. "I was telling them not to try and grow up too fast, don't try just to have a boyfriend because it sounds cool."

No matter the situation, Hill remembers and recognizes the importance of quality guidance at a young age. You could tell with Hill, and all of the players, this truly meant a lot.

"They always need somebody to look up to so why not be that father role model in this community, since I'm from here, for them to reach out and say 'I can be just like George. He came from the same place as us.'"

They can, and who knows who will. But it is visits like these that can touch a young boy or girl for the rest of their life. These Indiana players are grounded, willing to provide advice to those in a seat they once sat at years ago while they were living in similar situations.

"I feel like it's really good to come in here and they see you and might look at you like (a superhero) but then they can see you are just like them," Pendergraph said. "You talk to them and tell them 'I came from stuff just like this.' It kind of gives you some humility to the superhero type of thing these kids put on you.

"Everybody learned that we're just like them."

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