Future is now
A look at five players who are giving the Pacers a new outlook.
Years pro: 3.
Position: Shooting guard.
Jersey number: 6.
Vitals: 6'6", 200 lbs.
Hometown: Orlando, Fla.
College: Auburn University.
Years pro: 1.
Jersey number: 33.
Vitals: 6'9", 228 lb.
Hometown: New Orleans.
College: University of New Mexico.
Years pro: 2.
Jersey number: 13.
Vitals: 7'0", 280 lbs.
College: University of Colorado.
Years pro: Rookie.
Jersey number: 4.
Height, weight: 6'9", 225 lbs.
Hometown: Memphis, Tenn.
College: University of Memphis.
Years pro: Rookie.
Jersey number: 0.
Vitals: 6'7", 200 lbs.
Hometown: Washington D.C.
College: University of Cincinnati.
By Matt Gonzales
When Reggie Miller retired from the Indiana Pacers in 2005, he took more than his sweet shooting touch with him. The man stood guilty of identity theft.
Now, a full year after Miller's departure, the team remains in the midst of an identity crisis. But the squad's top brass resolved to "restore" the team -- in a few ways.
The team's old grind-it-out style of play is being replaced by an up-tempo, run-and-gun game. The Pacers also traded away the reliable, but aging, veterans Austin Croshere and Anthony Johnson to show that they mean business.
While everyone is familiar with Jermaine O'Neal, Stephen Jackson, Jamaal Tinsley and Jeff Foster, this year's Pacers are relying heavily on a corps of young, athletic ballers to help resuscitate the team, both on and off the court.
INtake's Matt Gonzales recently headed to Conseco Fieldhouse to get a closer look.
Shake it up: Pacers forward Danny Granger washes his English bulldog, Bentley. -- Michelle Pemberton / INtake
To many fans, Danny Granger is a beacon of light in an otherwise cloudy Pacer future. A gifted athlete, Granger approaches the game like a predator. Loose balls, errant shots and rim-bound opponents are his prey.
While Granger is a silent assassin on the court, he's the court jester off of it.
An example: While posing for the photograph on the cover of this issue, the INtake art director and photographer asked the players to wear their best not-to-be-messed-with faces. But Granger kept cracking everybody up. At one point, for no discernable reason, he started chanting "Chicken noodle soup, chicken noodle soup!" and improvised a little dance that could only be described as silly -- and that's putting it mildly.
Business, never personal
Later, when asked about the "chicken noodle soup," dance, he laughed.
"That's a dance from New York. JT (Jamaal Tinsley) is from New York, he brought that dance back with him," he said. "Stephen Jackson, too."
But make no mistake: Granger restricts his chicken noodle soup moments to before and after game time.
"During the game, I'm all business," he said. "I try not to get too high or low, or let my emotions get in the way of my game."
This is sweet music to the ears of fans who have grown tired of the on-court histrionics of other Pacers players. But Granger is also quick to defend his teammates who have trouble keeping a lid on their emotions.
"As far as the attitudes, sometimes people get emotional," he said. "I think that's what people don't realize: We all want to win, and sometimes in the heat of the moment, people just get emotional."
School of hard knocks
When explaining away the bad behavior of other Pacers players, apologists often point to their rough upbringings: Stephen Jackson came up in a rough-and-tumble neighborhood in Port Arthur, Texas; Jamaal Tinsley was raised in the mean streets of Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn.
But Granger is no product of suburban bliss himself.
His hometown of Metarie, La., lies adjacent to New Orleans, where trouble is easy to find. Granger managed to elude it. The same can't be said for everyone in his family.
"I've had family members killed," he said. "I have a cousin who is in jail. I could have easily ended up down a different path."
But his father, Danny Granger Sr., kept a close eye on him.
"I was scared of him," he said. "But it turned out for the best. He kept me in line."
Granger Sr. now splits his time between Louisiana and Indianapolis, often staying in Indy during the basketball season. As for the younger Granger, he lives in Carmel with his girlfriend, who he has dated since his college days in New Mexico, and his bulldog, Bentley.
Granger admitted that "there's not a lot to do" in Indianapolis, but added "it's probably for the best."
When he does go out, it usually involves food.
"I love to eat," he said with an emphasis people usually reserve for money or sex. "I'm a big fan of Sullivan's Steakhouse, and there's a soul food restaurant over on College, Country Kitchen, that I love."
At home, Granger passes the time watching movies in his newly installed home theater.
"I like movies that make you think," he said. "I like action movies; I like them all, but my favorite movie has to be 'Gladiator.' "
A fitting favorite, indeed.
Defining David Harrison
The Louis Vuitton bag in David Harrison's hands isn't his.
"It's Granger's," he says with a laugh. "We stole it from him weeks ago. We keep bringing in stuff from it and leaving it in the locker room. He still hasn't figured it out."
Among the bag's contents are several DVDs, including "The Karate Kid," and Granger's passport.
Talking to Harrison in person, you'd never guess he was the type of player to bark at refs and rack up technicals. He's funny, easygoing, affable. We're talking about a guy who calls Bob Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited" his all-time favorite album.
But in his two seasons with the Pacers, his time on the court has been limited by his inability to keep quiet.
"This year, I just want to stay on the court," he said. "I'm foul-prone, I get technicals, I do a lot of things that take away from my basketball."
Toning down the talk
"It's just the way I play sports," he said. "I just have to learn how to turn off that part of me when the whistle blows. It's not easy. I didn't grow up playing basketball. I grew up playing football and lacrosse -- violent sports. I loved lacrosse. You get a stick."
As a 6'9" high school freshman, Harrison went out for the wrestling team. According to him, it was through no choice of his own that he ended up playing basketball.
"They tricked me into it," he said, referring to the basketball team's coaches. "I was wrestling, and the basketball coach came and said, 'We have a big guy this week, could you come up to help us out?' I came, and one of the backups got hurt, and I played and scored 19 points on the JV team."
Slim, trim and ready
Harrison has struggled to keep his weight down in the past couple of years -- a problem he attributes to an injury he suffered in college that left him immobile for awhile. But he spent the past summer training with his former coach at Colorado and arrived at camp a full 30 pounds lighter than last season. That's quite an achievement, especially for a player whose work ethic has been questioned throughout his college and pro career.
"That's one thing that I've worked on since I've been here," he said. "I don't think I've ever been a bad person, but I've definitely been a risk in most people's eyes. My nightlife -- nobody knew what I was really doing, but everybody knew I was out. So I've tried to grow up a little bit, to be a little more mature."
And doing so in Indianapolis is easier than it was in Colorado.
"Honestly, coming here, I was like, 'Man, there's nothing to do.' But then I realized that in Colorado there was stuff to do every night. There's stuff to do here, it's just not every night. Which has actually helped me a lot professionally."
Man about town
Harrison, who lives in Carmel, still likes to hit nightspots from time to time, even if he has to drive a bit to get there.
"I wish there was more stuff up on the Northside," he said. "I liked Vizion and Vapour when they were open."
These days, Broad Ripple and Downtown are his two main nightlife stomping grounds.
"I go wherever people are," he said. "I love Six, Jermaine's club Seven, and there's something to do every night at Landsharks. My rookie year, I was at Peppers a lot. Me and the Vogue didn't get along too well. The bouncers didn't like me. Most of them have that little power kick. You really can't do anything if they tell you to leave besides get into more trouble. You kind of have to bite your tongue."
Tongue-biting, as Pacers fans know, isn't one of Harrison's strong points. But if he can learn to manage his temper the way he has managed his weight, Harrison may yet grow into an elite NBA center.
What matters to Marquis
He was no superstar, but former Pacer Austin Croshere was a favorite among fans. And in Reggie's absence, he emerged as the team's voice of reason in the locker room.
Now that the Pacers have traded Croshere away for the younger, more athletic Marquis Daniels, the question isn't whether Daniels can fill Croshere's basketball shoes, but if he can fill the spiritual void Croshere left behind.
The answer to that question may lie right beneath Daniels' nose. Or more specifically, beneath his left arm.
There, along the side of his torso, is a tattoo of Psalm 91 in its entirety. It looks almost as if someone ripped a page out of the Bible and made a carbon copy of the psalm along Daniels' rib cage.
Psalm 91 is around 300 words long, and opens with these lines:
"He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most
High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord,
He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust."
Daniels is quiet, almost shy, off the court. But his body speaks volumes. Among his many tattoos are a giant replica of his home state of Florida on his back, a man committing suicide with a shotgun with the words "Only the strong survive" on the inside of his forearm and a pair of menacing eyes peering from behind a crucifix with the caption "Look through the Eyes of a Killer" on his upper back.
But when asked which tattoo means the most to him, Daniels doesn't hesitate.
"Psalms 91," he resolutely responds.
With the Dallas Mavericks, Daniels saw his playing time gradually diminish under coach Avery Johnson. In the nine games leading up to the final game of the Mavs' season, he had scored only 9 points. But he turned heads during game six of the NBA finals when he scored 12 points, going 4-for-6 from the field.
Ironically, it was a game Daniels almost didn't show up for.
"My daughter was born just a couple of hours before the game," Daniels said. "I wasn't going to go, but my fiancée told me to. She pretty much forced me to go."
Dallas lost the game and the series, but Daniels won some admirers with his strong showing.
"Some people say I'm a smooth player, that I have silky style, that I make the game look easy," he said.
But his main priority, he said, is making the game easy for his teammates.
"I just try to create opportunities for the other guys on the floor," he said. "Not just looking to score, but helping everybody else score, too."
No 'I' in 'team'
Since he has arrived in Indianapolis, a number of fans have approached Daniels on the street. He appreciates the attention, but admits that it can be tough at times.
"Shana (his fiancée) gets frustrated by it," he said. "Just having people come up to you wherever you go, the movies or wherever. And you have to keep that smiling face, even when you're not in a good mood. It's not always easy."
Ups and downs of stardom aside, Daniels knows just how lucky he is to have the opportunity to establish himself as a cornerstone of a franchise of the Pacers' caliber.
"I really don't care about stats," he said. "I know that's the company line, and yeah, stats are nice and all, but at the end of the day, I want to see this team win. This team has a tradition of being a playoff team every year, of competing for a championship. I want to help that happen this year."
James White, No. 0, and Shawne Williams, No. 4,
The new kids on the block
Sitting courtside in metal folding chairs after a draining practice, Shawne Williams and James White are a study in contrast. White speaks like anyone else from the Midwest, while Williams has a deep Tennessean drawl. White is reserved and doles out personal details sparingly; Williams is open and gregarious. White's disposition is business-like; Williams exudes an almost child-like enthusiasm.
Young and younger
The differences are not just a matter of personality. Williams, who entered the NBA draft after one year of college, is only 20 years old. White is 24. As the only rookies on the team, it seems they'd feel the pressure to outdo one another, too. But both players adamantly say otherwise.
"We're not competing against one another. As rookies, we're really all we got," Williams said. "We've got to stick together and help each other out."
Although the Pacers drafted Williams in the first round, many expect White to see more playing time this year, thanks to his older age and college experience.
"We've got to do anything we can to get on the floor," Williams said. "We've got to be ready to play garbage time, and just take everything we can get."
Fans are particularly excited to see White let loose on the court. The Washington, D.C. native recently told The Indianapolis Star in no uncertain terms that he "WILL win" this coming season's NBA Slam Dunk Contest if he's invited. Having won approximately 20 dunk contests since he first dunked in middle school, he figures it's the last mountain he has to conquer.
But for all of his high-flying ways, White stays low to the ground off the court.
"These days, after practice, I pretty much go home and go to sleep."
When not sleeping, he spends his time playing Tunk, a rummy-like card game, with his roommate.
"It's intense," he said. "Last night, we played like 100 hands, and my roommate beat me. I can't wait to get home tonight to play again."
New kid in town
As for Williams, he's still feeling his way around Indianapolis. He's not old enough to enter the clubs that some of his teammates frequent. But he has seen enough of the city to know that it's not that different from his hometown.
"It's a small big city, like Memphis," he said. "It's the best of both worlds."
The one difference he's noticed between the two cities is the passion Indy residents have for basketball.
"A lot of people on the street seem to know more about the game than a lot of columnists and journalists," he said. "I just want to help get the team back to where fans can appreciate the game. I want to make it fun to watch for the fans. I want to win."