Scrimmage reaches OT, then Bennedict Mathurin wins Rookie Show at Pacers FanJam 2022
The Pacers hold FanJam, a free event for fans, each year before the season. Photos with players returned, along with a scrimmage and the rookie show. Details, quotes and videos are in the story.
For two hours on a Colts-less Sunday, thousands of Pacers fans filled Gainbridge Fieldhouse for their first look at the 2022-23 team.
The Pacers opened their preseason slate last week with two games on the road and neither was televised locally, so Pacers FanJam — a free event held annually before the season opener — was the first chance for fans to see the three rookies and a few offseason acquisitions, along with the $360 million in building renovations.
“This is going to be a fun team to watch, it’s going to be a fun team for our fans to grow with moving forward,” head coach Rick Carlisle said afterward.
“There’s so much upside with this group that, from a coaching standpoint, this is really invigorating. It’s not going to happen overnight, it’s going to take time. We’re going to do it the right way and we’re not going to skip any steps. We’ve got good guys that love to play.”
For a second on Sunday, I thought Larry Bird was running things again. Because Carlisle and his team entered the arena at 11:54 am after finishing a practice across the street at the St. Vincent Center. That was an early arrival.
(Bird is retired and now off the payroll. But if he said he’d talk at 5 p.m., he would start no later than 5 p.m.)
Carlisle grabbed the microphone, welcomed fans to The Fieldhouse and listed who would play on the Blue and White Teams in the scrimmage. There was no formal introductions this year.
All of the players, coaches and staff members were present. There were performances by the Pacemates, Hype Crew and Power Pack. And Boomer was the favorite everywhere.
My favorite part of the event, as I sit courtside (which doesn’t happen anymore during games) is seeing the players and coaches interact with their families. Just take the assistant coaches, for example.
Mike Weinar sat courtside with his kids, as did Lloyd Pierce. At times, Jenny Boucek held her daughter while watching the team play. Ronald Nored wore a big smile on his face for a few minutes as he FaceTimed home with Boomer for one of his kids.
As newcomer Langston Galloway participated in the 3-point shootout, his son was at the ball rack with a ball in hand. Who knows how many more years Galloway will play; you can bet he’s maximizing this time and soaking it in with his family present.
And his son became one of the highlights of FanJam after he excited the crowd with a dance. (Scroll to the bottom to watch.)
“I had a lot of fun in my first experience,” said 2022 lottery pick Bennedict Mathurin from the University of Arizona.
The on-court event lasted for an hour, about a half-hour shorter than usual. That was probably done to prioritize time with fans because at 1 p.m., players headed up to the concourse area to take photos with fans. That was not done the past few years due to Covid.
With events emceed by Chris Denari, the television voice of the Pacers, there was a scrimmage, 3-point contest and rookie show. But no skills challenge, like usual.
Here’s my annual rundown from the day.
Team Scrimmage - Two 10-minute halves (plus a two-minute overtime)
After a brief warmup, they got right to it and played for 22 minutes total. They shot free throws, called fouls and did not have a running clock.
White Team, coached by Mike Weinar: Tyrese Haliburton, Chris Duarte, Buddy Hield, Jalen Smith, Myles Turner; non-starters: Andrew Nembhard, Oshae Brissett, Langston Galloway.
Not playing: Theis
Blue Team, coached by Ronald Nored: T.J. McConnell, Bennedict Mathurin, James Johnson, Terry Taylor, Isaiah Jackson; non-starters: Kendall Brown, Goga Bitadze, Deividas Sirvydis.
Not playing: Nesmith
This was the first time the Pacers used outside officials in practice. I asked Carlisle about this last week and he said they mostly had two staff members do it.
I was sitting right next to the Blue Team’s bench so I mostly heard Nored and guard T.J. McConnell doing a mix of coaching and bantering back and forth. Like when McConnell was taken out for the first time: “I’m not even tired!!!” he shouted seriously, then smiled.
The Blue Team was up 36-29 after the first 10-minute session.
McConnell was talking with Nored between halves trying to scheme how they should play. Nored looked at him and said: “It’s not that deep.”
The Blue Team had six guys on the court to begin the second half so they were penalized. And later, there was a take foul called. Yes, that’s a thing now, thankfully.
Tyrese Haliburton threw it off the glass and completed a dunk, Isaiah Jackson went between the legs and then finished. Many guys launched 3-pointers.
The White Team clawed back from a nine-point hole with three minutes left to within three. Buddy Hield missed a 3-pointer on an inbounds, but they got the rebound and Langston Galloway connected as time expired to force an extra session.
The White Team not only came back, but won 70-68 in OT. Deividas Sirvydis missed a 3 in the left corner that would have won it for the Blue Team.
It was an entertaining session for the estimated crowd of 6,500 fans who joined, filling most of the lower- and club- levels.
“The spirit was good,” Carlisle said. “The thing got close, tie game, that’s all good stuff. I really thought the crowd was great. This was as good of a FanJam crowd as we’ve had here.”
Note for paid subscribers: I will post video highlights from the scrimmage on Monday.
Hield (22) v Haliburton (20)
Galloway (20) v Sirvydis (17)
FINALS: **Hield** (24) v Galloway (21)
For more than a decade, veteran players have had the rookie players (and staff members) sing a random song at center court in front of everywhere. Most guys are uncomfortable and a little bit embarrassed. They’re out of their element.
“Basketball is way easier for me to go in front of crowd,” said Andrew Nembhard. “Singing and dancing is not really my thing.
Others embrace it and go all-in, like Turner.
So it’s only fitting that Turner is still running this event. Even though his whole situation must be a bit awkward knowing the team signed another center to an offer sheet in the offseason and have considered trading him, he was as involved and active as usual. Enjoying every moment.
His vet was Paul George in 2015, which seems like ages ago. He had to sing “I Can’t Feel My Face.” In the years that followed, they added another new wrinkle — the rookie would also wearing a costume.
It’s Turner who selects each song. It’s Turner who shops for the outfits. And it’s Turner who takes the mic and has a blast with it.
“I love it, man,” he said. “I remember having to go up there as a rook and I remember what it feels like.”
Nembhard, dressed as Buzz Lightyear, joked: “(Rookie show is) trash. I hate Myles. He set this shit up, gave us the worst songs, gave us the outfits, but nah, it’s all fun.”
Turner was asked about the song choices and mentioned how he usually selected songs that he grew up on and were once popular.
But then he had a thought.
“Dang, now that I think about it, these guys were born in the 2000s. I don’t even know if they know most of these songs.”
They were given their songs at least a week in advance, but you wouldn’t know it by their performances. At least Mathurin, dressed as Frozone from “The Incredibles,” thought to have his phone out and the lyrics pulled up.
“The others got Fs,” Turner said with a smile. “They didn’t do their homework.”
Mathurin easily received the loudest applause at the end. “Nah, not nervous,” he said. “I was pretty excited to meet the fans for the first time and having a great experience.”
Added Carlisle: “When the lights come on, there are some guys that really step up to that moment. I got a feeling he’s going to be one of those guys. I really think all of our rookies are going to be really good players and guys looking forward to those kinds of moments. It’s an exciting class.”
You can watch each performance below.
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Massage therapist Victoria Pelton: “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen
Kendall Brown: “Since U Been Gone” by Kelly Clarkson
Andrew Nembhard: “Firework” by Katy Perry
Bennedict Mathurin: “A Thousand Miles” by Vanessa Carlton
BONUS: A dance off — and Langston Galloway’s son easily steals the show…