10 Indiana Pacers Summer school is over; it's time for Jonathan Bender and Al Harrington to show the world what they learned

October 29, 2001

Jermaine O'Neal knows what you did last summer. That is, if
you're Jonathan Bender or Al Harrington. O'Neal, a 23-year-old
power forward fresh off a breakout year in his fifth NBA season,
kept close tabs on the off-season progress of his two
straight-outta-high school counterparts. He spent his summer in
Atlanta living in the same apartment complex as Bender, with
whom he trained and played, and he periodically phoned to
interrogate Harrington, who was working out with personal
strength coach Joe Abunassar in Bradenton, Fla.

What did O'Neal, the big brother of the Pacers' barely legal
brigade, have to say? "It wasn't encouragement," laughs
Harrington. "It was more like, 'I'm doing more than you.'
Jermaine would call and tell me he'd been running on the
football field, lifting weights, and I'd tell him I'd been
lifting weights and doing agility drills and running laps in the
pool. But man, we all worked hard. We all busted our a-s-s. And
that's going to make us better once we get out on the floor."

O'Neal is a model for Bender and Harrington not only because he
inspired them to take up badly needed workout regimens (the
spindly 7-foot Bender gained 23 pounds and now weighs 219; the
6'9" Harrington toned much of his baby fat into muscle), but
also because he typifies how a young player can, given
substantial PT, transform potential into production. Last
season, averaging 32.6 minutes a game (his high during four
seasons with Portland was 13.5), O'Neal tripled his career highs
in points, rebounds and blocks, tying for the league lead in the
latter with 228. The second year of coach Isiah Thomas's
rebuilding program will depend heavily on whether Bender and
Harrington can duplicate O'Neal's forward leap. "I said that
there couldn't be any excuses this year, and I meant it to
everyone," says Reggie Miller, the team's veteran in his 15th
season. "But we're going to depend a lot more than we ever have
on the younger guys, so if they take that personally, good. We
need them more than we need anyone else on this team. Jermaine
has already had his breakout year. This is the time for Al and
J.B. to showcase their skills."

The Pacers have invested much in the youthful duo: Harrington,
21, was Indiana's first-round pick in '98, and Bender, 20, came
at the price of All-Star center Antonio Davis in '99. Only
Harrington, whose season averages in minutes, points, rebounds
and assists have increased in each of his three seasons, has come
close to justifying the expense. Bender has yet to average more
than 9.7 minutes or 3.3 points per game. Drafted as Miller's
successor at the two spot, Bender now more than ever must spell
the 36-year-old, whose 3,181 minutes last season were his most
since '89-90. Bender's size and strong off-the-dribble moves make
him an intriguing possibility at off-guard, but his defense is
immature, and he's still struggling with the transition from high
school stud to NBA bit player. "That was tough last year," he
says. "My first year I didn't play, but I expected that. Last
year I thought I was going to play a little more. I took the
drive to earn those minutes with me this summer. I'm not going to
take that backseat anymore. Now is my season to come out."

The Pacers need that to improve on last season's .500 record and
first-round playoff exit, because the roster is status quo.
Miller is a fixture, and Jalen Rose will start, at point guard
or at small forward, with Travis Best (3.7 assists to turnovers)
at the point. Austin Croshere regressed after signing a
seven-year, $51 million contract prior to last season, but in
Thomas's system of interchangeable parts, he's in the mix at the
three or the four. Ho-hum Jeff Foster is the best Indiana can do
at center, though O'Neal will play there against smaller five
men, as he did last season.

So the burden falls on the youth, but don't put it that way to
O'Neal. "We prefer not to even be called the youth movement
anymore," he says. "This is Al's fourth year; this is J.B.'s
third year. How long does it take to actually be called a
professional basketball player?" Good question. We'll see if he
gets a good answer.

--Daniel G. Habib

COLOR PHOTO: FRANK MCGRATH/NBA ENTERTAINMENT BREAKOUT O'Neal put up a raft of career highs last year; now he is integral to Indiana's plans. COLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH DUE DATE? The Pacers hope this season will see a payoff from Harrington, the 25th draft pick in '98, who hasn't earned his keep.

enemy lines
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Pacers

"Under the new defensive rules, teams are going to be able to
double Jermaine O'Neal front and back, so to be effective he'll
need to supplement his post game with a jump shot facing the
basket. As good a shot blocker as O'Neal is, they don't really
seem to funnel their defense in to him. It would help if they
had another guy capable of defending inside. That would allow
O'Neal to explode in from the weak side and block shots.... Of
their young guys, Al Harrington is learning the quickest. He
plays hard, he's developed a decent jump shot, and with his size
he can play the three and still rebound well.... Jalen Rose can
play the one, two or three, but I think he's best for them at
the point with the mismatches he and Reggie Miller can create.
As much as they need Rose to score, they also need him to set up
his teammates. The onus is on Jalen to figure out what the team
needs each game.... Travis Best doesn't start, but he should
understand that he can have a real impact on the game as a
change of pace to Rose.... There's a lot of talk about Michael
Jordan's playing small forward at 38, but look at Miller: He's
36, he hasn't taken any years off, and he's still one of the
best at a position dominated by much younger players. Reggie has
missed only four games over the last five years because he knows
how to take care of his body. When he draws fouls, it's usually
a bump foul--he gets you in the air and gets you to bump him
rather than flying at the rim and getting slammed to the floor."

projected lineup
2000-01 record: 41-41 (fourth in Central)
Coach: Isiah Thomas (second season with Pacers)

STARTERS
PVR* 2000-01 KEY STATS

SF Al Harrington 7.5 ppg 4.9 rpg 1.7 apg 0.81 spg 44.4 FG%
126
PF Jermaine O'Neal 12.9 ppg 9.8 rpg 2.81 bpg 0.60 spg 46.5 FG%
26
C Jeff Foster 3.5 ppg 5.5 rpg 0.39 bpg 46.9 FG% 51.6 FT%
215
SG Reggie Miller 18.9 ppg 3.5 rpg 1.00 spg 44.0 FG% 36.6 3FG%
48
PG Jalen Rose 20.5 ppg 6.0 apg 5.0 rpg 0.90 spg 45.7 FG%
40

BENCH
PVR* 2000-01 KEY STATS

G Travis Best 11.9 ppg 6.1 apg 2.9 rpg 1.43 spg 44.0 FG%
85
F Austin Croshere 10.1 ppg 4.8 rpg 1.1 apg 0.62 bpg 39.4 FG%
148
G-F Jonathan Bender 3.3 ppg 1.3 rpg 0.5 apg 0.47 bpg 35.5 FG%
162
F-C Carlos Rogers[1] 4.6 ppg 3.6 rpg 0.46 bpg 68.2 FG% 55.8 FT%
271
G Jamaal Tinsley(R)[1]14.3 ppg 6.0 apg 3.8 rpg 2.55 spg 39.9 FG%
279

[1]New acquisition
(R) Rookie (statistics for final college season)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 117)

"Look at Miller. He's 36, and he's only missed four games the
last five years."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)