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Speaking Quietly, Proclaiming Loudly

by Mark Montieth

September 28, 2012

Standing near the putting green at the Brickyard Crossing golf course Thursday, David West spoke quietly, but proclaimed loudly.

"We're gonna be good, man," he said between greeting fans during the Pacers' annual golf outing. "I'm excited."

Well, sure. Preseason talk is a given at all levels in sport. When was the last time you heard a player mutter, "I dunno, I really don't see much to get excited about," aside from a player demanding a trade? Talk to the Pacers, however, from the guys in the executive offices to the guys without guaranteed contracts, and you hear what sounds like devoutly sincere optimism, even when they're not speaking into microphones.

They are longer than last season, George Hill benefits from having a lock on the starting point guard position, his backup, D.J. Augustin, brings a "true point guard" mentality to the position, David West is healthier, Sam Young provides a defensive match-up for Lebron James, Gerald Green brings an X factor that might be the greatest source of overall improvement, Paul George and Roy Hibbert are still in the improving phases of their careers, and, for the first time, Frank Vogel will have a training camp to prepare the team.

Oh, yes. They're all but bonded.

Several of them, reportedly eight, gathered in Los Angeles for a mini-camp with the coaches in August. Most of them have been working out at Bankers Life Fieldhouse since the second week of September, and all of them have been in town for at least a couple of days. All, in fact, stopped by Brickyard Crossing to mingle with fans on Thursday, believed to be a first since the franchise began conducting pre-training camp golf outings in the late 1980s. Friday, it was a team Paintball outing and then dinner at Bub's Burgers in Carmel.

Building better chemistry, one burger at a time.

"There's no egos on this team, that's what I love about it," Green said. "Everybody has the same goal, the same agenda."

So, while training camp officially opens on Monday, it has, for all practical purposes, already begun for the Pacers, who re-established themselves as a legitimate concern in the Eastern Conference last season by extending the eventual champion, Miami, to a six-game series in the conference semifinals.

"If you go anywhere else, guys won't get there until two or three days before (camp opens)," said Sam Young, one of the new acquisitions. "For a whole team to be here so early, that shows a lot for the character."

Actually, a good portion of the team was somewhere else together even earlier. They met up in L.A. for four days with the coaches, and it wasn't to tour the homes of the stars. They practiced at Loyola Marymount, and then scrimmaged at the Clippers' practice facility against other NBA players. That meant Roy Hibbert was going up against the likes of Clippers center Deandre Jordan, as opposed to some 6-7 kid who had been kicked off his junior college team.

More recently, players and coaches have been gathering at the Fieldhouse for more serious work, about four hours worth, five days per week. NBA rules allow coaches to work with six players at a time on the court, while the other players lift weights and run. The coaches were not allowed to be on the court with the players while they scrimmaged, but could watch.

By all accounts, the games were serious-minded affairs.

"The pickup games are great," Danny Granger said. "We've been competing like it's the playoffs.

"It's really, really competitive."

The games have revealed, according to the participants, a multitude of promising things, but two in particular.

Length, for one, the kind that grabs a few extra rebounds and gets in the passing lanes on defense. Exchanging Lou Amundsen, Dahntay Jones, Darren Collison, A.J. Price and Leandro Barbosa for Ian Manhimi, Green, Young, Augustin and first-round draft pick Miles Plumlee added about 20 collective inches in height.

"We're huge," West said.

Augustin for another. He's opened eyes with his flawless execution of the pick-and-roll, a necessity in today's NBA.

"He's a true point guard," Granger said. "He's really impressive."

"He's different than what we had before," West added.

All just words at this point. But words, at least, spoken with a quiet sincerity.

They'll be put to official action on Monday.

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