The Pacers held their annual Media Day on Monday, Sept. 29 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Training camp begins Tuesday, Sept. 30.
George already back in uniform
Perhaps the most encouraging sign during the Pacers' media day activities was the sight of Paul George walking around the Bankers Life Fieldhouse floor.
Without crutches. Without a boot. While wearing shoes on both feet.
George, who broke the fibula in his right leg on Aug. 1, put on both shoes for the first time since his injury on Monday. He was not made available to the general media, but did chat casually with reporters and was in good spirits throughout the session He was photographed with his teammates for the standard array of publicity and media guide photos, and was interviewed by Chris Denari and Mark Boyle live on Pacers.com.
“Everything happens for a reason,” George said. “It gave me a chance to be in the weight room and spend some time there. I've got to use this as a blessing. It's tough to say you got hurt for a reason, but I honestly think I did. Now everything is starting to come back for me. I'm feeling great. I've been cleared to be in the weight room and work out. That's been keeping me positive and sane.”
George said he will not travel with the Pacers early in the season, but is likely to do so on most of the road trips later. He reiterated his hope that he might come back at the end of the upcoming season, although the Pacers as an organization are operating under the assumption he won't.
“It's very possible that I can play (this season),” George said. “I've talked to all the guys and said, 'Man, you guys have to get in the playoffs. That's the best chance I've got of coming back and playing this year.' I've already got it in mind that I could miss this whole year. I'm come to peace with that, but I'd love to be able to come back and play again.”
Can't have enough C.J.'s
The Pacers managed to play 46 seasons without someone named C.J. donning a uniform. Now, suddenly, they have three of them.
C.J. Watson was signed as a free agent last season, and now C.J. Miles and C.J. Fair have been added to the roster. That's sure to cause some confusion among the coaching staff when addressing players. “C.J., get in the game!” just won't get it done any longer.
Miles, a nine-year NBA veteran, has laid claim to the name.
“I've got seniority,” he said. “I get to keep mine. C.J. Fair has to take whatever he can get. He's the rookie.”
Assistant coach Dan Burke has solved the problem by referring to each by his hometown. So Miles is “Dallas” and Watson is “Vegas” and Fair is “Baltimore.”
The irony is that none of the three have a middle name beginning with the letter J. Miles is Calvin Andre, Watson is Charles Akeem and Fair is Carl Keith. All three have fathers with the same name, however, so the J comes from Junior.
Hill tuning his engine
When George Hill was asked what he worked on this summer, the assumption was that the topic was basketball. Hill had something else, in mind, however.
“I worked on a '62 Impala,” he said. “It's running pretty good. I have 575 horsepower behind the engine.”
More seriously, he did indeed put in time on his occupation.
“I was in the gym every day, working on my shot, watching a lot of film,” Hill said. “It's a work in progress. I'm not where I want to be, but I know I've put in a great deal of work this year and hopefully it pays off.”
Rudez goes back to basics
Damjan Rudez will wear jersey number 9 with the Pacers. That was the number his older brother had worn, and was his original number when he began playing organized basketball at the age of 7.
“He was really good, and you know how it is with older brothers,” Rudez said. “You look up to older brothers. If he had been a soccer player, I would have been a soccer player, too.”
Rudez was born in in Zagreb, Croatia in 1986, six years before Pacers president Larry Bird retired, but counts himself as a major fan of Bird, the player. He's spent countless hours watching video of NBA greats from Bird's era, as well as fellow Croatians Drazen Petrovic and Toni Kukoc.
“I'm an NBA freak,” Rudez said. “I've followed the NBA since I was seven years old. I know pretty much all about him.
“It's strange coming to work every day and seeing Larry Bird, but it's definitely something, you know?”
Moments later, Bird walked by and offered a handshake to Rudez. “Hey, I was just talking about you!” Rudez said. “Oh, boy,” Bird deadpanned as he walked away.
Rudez is a 28-year-old NBA rookie, having played professionally in Europe since 2006. So far he's played just one week of informal scrimmages with his new teammates, but has one distinct impression.
“Watching NBA every day on TV, you can't get the perception of how strong and quick everybody is,” he said. “I was really impressed by the speed and athleticism.”
Which is not to say his confidence has taken a hit.
“Pretty much it's basketball,” he said. “I don't think it's nuclear science. Of course there's going to be aspects I have to adjust or get better. With my shooting, I think I'll make a smooth transition.”
Rudez is a career 40 percent three-point shooter, and hit 43 percent of his three-pointers last season while playing in Spain.
No starting five yet
Coach Frank Vogel said he has a starting five in mind, but not one that he wants to announce yet.
“We’re going to wait till we go through camp and see how it all plays out,” he said.
David West, Roy Hibbert and George Hill appear to be locks as returning starters. The two spots vacated by George and Lance Stephenson will likely be filled from the group of C.J. Miles, Rodney Stuckey and Solomon Hill.
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