|The Pacers are looking to turn things around and have a successful 2007-08 season. Many fans think the season kicks off with the first day of training camp, but particularly for those of us in the media, the season actually starts with Media Day. The following is a taste of what transpired as coaches and players gathered today in Indianapolis to meet with the media.|
Coach Jim O'Brien and Jermaine O'Neal each had a 30-minute session with the media to start the day's events. Coach O'Brien talked about how happy he is to be in Indiana, and how anxious he is to begin working with this team. He also likes the players the Pacers have brought in over the summer. "I've been very happy with the four players that we were able to get in the offseason: Travis (Diener), Stephen (Graham), Andre (Owens), and Kareem (Rush)," said O'Brien.
Jim spoke about some of the returning players as well. With regard to Jamaal Tinsley, he discussed his experience with him as an opposing coach. "In Jamaal's case, he always troubled me from the standpoint of how shrewd he was handling the basketball and how difficult he was coming off pick-and-rolls," O'Brien said. "I don't think that he has necessarily played the type of offensive basketball that has allowed him to play at his best...I believe that he will excel."
O'Brien also expressed his feelings about All-Star power forward Jermaine O'Neal. "Jermaine is a very unique talent...the thing that really intrigues me with Jermaine is how much of a force he can be at both ends of the court," said O'Brien.
Coach O'Brien went on to summarized his philosophy of how to play the game. "There are three phases: there's the defensive end, there's the pursuit of any ball that's up for grabs...and then when you get the basketball, the ability to run effectively and attack the basket."
There was much speculation last season about how important Marquis Daniels was to the team. The Pacers suffered a drought after he missed 33 games near the end of the season due to injury. Jim O'Brien spoke glowingly of both Daniels' skills and effort over the summer. "Nobody spent more time in Conseco than Marquis did," coach O'Brien said.
O'Brien doesn't like the tag of "disciplinarian", but said he will have a no-nonsense approach to players' actions on and off the floor. He indicated that before a basketball is bounced on the first day of camp, those expectations will be discussed and made clear to everyone on the team.
Jermaine O'Neal had his turn at the podium, and discussed an array of topics. However, he was not very interested in discussing trade rumors that may involve him. "People have conversations...it's all talk...I'm here, I'm happy to be here, I feel good, I like the staff, I like the guys...it should be an exciting year."
Jermaine feels that with the new coaching staff in place, this is a fresh start for the entire team. "I think the most intriguing part is that we get the opportunity to learn the system together," said O'Neal. "It is a new year...sometimes failure makes you stronger, physically and mentally."
O'Neal also talked a bit about the landscape in the Eastern Conference. "Everybody's talking about the additions that other teams have made. They have to play the same way we got to play. They got to go out and try to win games. We have just as good of a chance to win a game as Boston does."
JO was candid throughout the interview, but two of his boldest statements were about the Celtics, and one of his teammates. "Do I think they (Boston) are going to win the championship this year? I don't think so. I think they'll be better next year than they will be this year."
Jermaine talked about playing with Danny Granger and Shawne Williams this summer, and had some news about the young forward from Memphis. "To tell you the truth, one of the people that stood out the most is Shawne Williams...I think Shawne Williams probably has the most talent out of the two."
O'Neal seemed to express genuine enthusiasm for the upcoming season. "It's almost like Christmas. That day before when you get that feeling in your stomach that there may be something special up under that tree," Jermaine said. "I have a good feeling about this year."
Every player was excited about playing for the new coaching staff, and playing under the new system. Marquis Daniels' feelings were typical. "(There is) a lot of excitement, we got a new coach, a new system, things coming in, so everybody's very excited about coming in this year."
Kareem Rush also likes the new up-tempo system, and came across as someone who believes in his ability to help this team. "I plan on providing a lot of scoring, a lot of three-pointers," he said. "I think I'm perfect for his (Jim O'Brien's) system...he doesn't mind guys shooting a lot of three-pointers."
Several players commented on what they did to improve themselves during the offseason. "We sat down at the end of the season and met and discussed some things they wanted me to improve on, and a lot of that was physically getting stronger," said Mike Dunleavy. "They put together a program and I followed it". Troy Murphy also worked on strength during the offseason, and he looked noticeably bigger and stronger than before.
Players also expressed their appreciation for the Pacers franchise, and Indiana basketball fans in general. "I think it's a perfect fit for me," Travis Diener said. "The fans are very passionate about basketball, those are the type of fans I want to play for."
There were plenty of lighthearted moments at Media Day as well. For example, we learned a thing or two about Ike Diogu... he took an Art History class and a film study course this summer. Ike enjoyed the film class (he particularly likes Alfred Hitchcock movies). He's a Digital Animation major, and eventually wants to design video games.
Getting to know players as people makes them more accessible to fans, and enhances the NBA experience for people who follow the league. Kareem Rush, for instance, wants to set up charities to help children once he gets settled into life in Indiana.
Perhaps not all players want you to know them, however. In a true tongue-in-cheek moment, Troy Murphy had this to say when asked if there is anything we don't know about him that he'd like us to know. "Nah, I want to be an enigma."
An enigma? That might be a perfect way to describe the 2007-08 Indiana Pacers. New coaches, a new system on both offense and defense, and a few new players should make this an interesting year for Pacers basketball. This team probably won't remain an enigma for very long though, and the process to find out what this team is all about starts now.