Sweet Package of Energy and IQ

Ken Rodriguez is a San Antonio native who covered his first Spurs game in 1981 for The Daily Texan, the University of Texas student newspaper. He spent 26 years in the newspaper business -- 21 of them covering sports -- before joining the marketing department at Our Lady of the Lake University in 2009. His Spurs.com column will appear every Wednesday.

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Jeff Pendergraph didn’t score a lot of points for Indiana last season. He didn’t get a ton of minutes. He never started a game.

But all the players looked up to him, and the coaches considered him an assistant on the floor. Say hello to an intriguing 6-foot-9 addition in Silver and Black. Leadership and energy are two reasons the Spurs like Pendergraph. Basketball IQ is another.

In Indiana, Pendergraph was a one-man pep rally, the Pacer most likely to combust before tip-off, the player with enough energy to light up Bankers Life Fieldhouse by himself.

In the vast catalogue of pre-game NBA rituals, Tim Duncan cradling a ball to his chin is perhaps the most understated, LeBron James tossing chalk in the air the most theatrical. The wildest routine might belong to Pendergraph. He unleashes a series of shimmies and shakes, jumps and bumps -- all improvisational -- that defy description. “I don’t know what to call it,” he says. “It’s just crazy.”

Do not misunderstand. Pendergraph does not hop, twist and gyrate to draw fan attention to himself. He cuts loose to energize teammates. As Indiana’s Orlando Johnson explained to USA Today, “It ties in everything we go through and what coach preaches. Pendy just loses it. It’s not scripted. … It’s all from the heart.”

“And it’s a fun way,” Paul George added, “to ease the tension.”

The routine is not new. Pendergraph showcased it in Portland as a rookie. He inspired teammates with it at Arizona State. He introduced it as a teenaged sensation in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. “I’ve been doing it since high school,” he says.

Pendergraph helped turn Etiwanda High into a powerhouse but that is not where his story begins. It starts years earlier on a kiddie team with two future NBA players. He doesn’t remember the precise year or the grade he was in. He only remembers that he played with one kid, a gifted point guard, who would become his best friend and college rival and future teammate in Indiana -- Darren Collison.

“Darren Collison and I have been playing with each other or against each other all the way back to elementary school,” Pendergraph says. “We played together in high school our sophomore, junior and senior years. We went to the Pac-10 together and played against each other when he was at UCLA. We were neighbors In Indiana. He lived next door to me in a condo. And his wife and my wife are really good friends.”

Collison, now with the Clippers, was traded to Indiana after his rookie season, and talked up Pendergraph to coaches and management until they signed him. Once Pendergraph arrived, Larry Bird, president of basketball operations, told him, “Darren is your biggest supporter. He wouldn’t stop talking about you.”

In Indiana, Pendergraph impressed in ways that never appeared in a box score. As coach Frank Vogel once told NBA.com, “The thing people don’t know about Jeff Pendergraph is that he’s got an extraordinary basketball IQ. He’s like an assistant coach out there, in every practice and every film session. He’s coaching everybody. He sees everything and really, really understands the game.”

He knew how to maximize his role on the court. He also knew where every teammate needed to be on every play when he was off the court.

“IQ is probably the biggest part of my game,” Pendergraph says. “Being on the sideline a lot, you have to watch a lot of stuff. If I’m not the one out there playing, I make sure the ones who are are doing the right thing. I try to communicate with them. That’s a part of my game I’ve worked hard to develop. I’m always asking coaches questions. ‘What about this play? What about that play?’ I try to communicate on both ends of the floor and help my teammates get better.”

One Indiana coach was particularly impressed and formed a tight relationship with Pendergraph. The Spurs hired that assistant, Jim Boylen, in June and signed Pendergraph in July.

“Boylen was my workout coach in Indiana,” Pendergraph says. “We worked out every day. We went out to eat together. It was awesome. It’s really cool to have him here. I could talk to him about anything going on -- about my game, about my playing time. He always had an open ear and gave me advice. He didn’t tell me what I wanted to hear but what I needed to hear.”

That basketball IQ is already at work. The pre-game routine that electrified the Pacers may not work with the famously subdued and self-effacing Spurs. So Pendergraph says he will watch, learn the culture, and adjust, if necessary.

“I like to get everybody hyped up and ready to go but I’m not going to force it in San Antonio,” he says. “If the team is not ready for it, I’ll just have to figure out another way to contribute.

“The Spurs were so close to an NBA title. I’ve never been to the Finals. I can’t wait to be a part of that. I want to do what I can to help them win more games and be the best Spur I can be.”