Rebound Year Leads Foster To Brink Of Milestone

By Conrad Brunner

For a player like Jeff Foster, statistics have less meaning than most. He is most decidedly not a numbers guy, other than the ones in the left-hand column of the NBA standings.

But after a stretch of strong performances, the Pacers' veteran now stands on the brink of a significant milestone: he is 10 rebounds away from 5,000 for his career. The way he's been going lately, he could easily get reach that mark tonight against the New Jersey Nets in Conseco Fieldhouse.

It's fitting in so many ways because this has been a rebound season for Foster.

After missing most of last season due to back surgery, Foster had to show he had regained the ability to play with the reckless disregard for his physical well-being that has marked his career.

Some guys might be able to nurse a few more seasons out of a career by dialing back certain exertions. That's just not in Foster's DNA. Without all-out, there is nothing.

"I think a lot of people wrote me off, but that happens when you're not out there and you're not playing," Foster said. "I've just been fortunate to have a good group of people on the training staff working with me and they were able to get me back to where I can compete at this level."

In the process, the man who ranks fifth in franchise history in rebounds with 4,990 (behind Mel Daniels, Dale Davis, Rik Smits and George McGinnis) and third in offensive boards with 1,980 (behind Davis and Daniels) proved a little something to himself.

"I'm a very prideful person and I felt disappointed in myself," he said. "Last year was the first year I didn't live up to … we're all under contract and I take pride in earning every dollar I make and I felt through no fault of my own it was the first time I didn't do that.

"I felt like it was my responsibility to Larry (Bird) and the Simon family and the Pacers franchise to come back and prove my worth."

That he has. Stepping into a bigger role as Roy Hibbert has struggled, Foster has been his old self the past few weeks. In the last eight games, he has averaged 9.5 rebounds in 23.8 minutes per game.

In the 190 minutes he has been on the floor, the Pacers have outscored opponents by 48 points; in the 194 minutes he has been on the bench, the Pacers have been outscored by 83.

"Jeff's having a very good season," said Coach Jim O'Brien. "The difference from a plus-minus with him on the court versus off the court is dramatic. That speaks volumes to what he's been able to accomplish for us.

"We knew that as he strengthened his core he was going to be fine. He's playing a lot of minutes, he's playing back-to-back games, he's taking charges. He's doing everything we expected him to do."

In the final season of his contract, having just turned 34 last Sunday, might this recent stretch of productivity affect how he views his NBA future?

"I'm still taking the same approach I took at the beginning of the year," Foster said. "I'm just taking it day by day. I think the lockout will have a lot to do with my decision beyond this year. But I enjoy playing, I enjoy being with the guys and playing at this level. It's fun."

Almost as much fun as it has been watching him all these years.