I wanted to go a different route today with my draft preview, and give some perspective on two guys that became Indiana Pacers that almost didn’t. I’ll give you a second to think about that, and then go with my thoughts.
Did you think about it? Two names that are starting to become linked together as great Indiana Pacer players. Two guys that are silky smooth shooters. Two guys who step up huge for the Blue and Gold. One game goes by Reggie, the other guy goes by Paul. Still stumped? Last names are Miller and George. That’s right, Reggie Miller and Paul George. Two of my favorite Pacers players, and two guys that ALMOST didn’t end up in the Blue and Gold of Indiana.
Let’s start with Reggie Miller, and how he came to be just known as Reggie. Back in 1987, Steve Alford of Indiana University just completed a strong season in which IU won the 1987 National Championship. In that game alone, Alford racked up 23 points to lead the Hoosiers to victory. Fans here in Indianapolis were drooling over the prospect of Alford playing for the local professional basketball team. It only made sense, local college guy plays for local pro team.
Draft night comes along, and the Pacers are up, and they announce that they’ll be drafting Reggie Miller out of UCLA. A lanky kid who was known to trash talk, but could find his shot around the floor. A guy from all the way out of California over the man at IU? Fans were expressing their displeasure right away, but the Pacers didn’t waver in that thought. Well, of course, everyone knows the history of what Reggie Miller did and what Steve Alford did. Just in case, you need your memory refreshed, Alford played four seasons in the NBA, and started three games. That’s about the extent of his playing career.
Reggie Miller would have epic battles in the playoffs against the New York Knicks and Chicago Bulls. He was a guy that would talk trash, but could back it up. He would work his way through defenses, and find that open shot. When he shot, everyone just assumed it was always going in. I remember back in the 1990’s, there was even a song about Reggie. Everyone just knew Reggie was the face of the franchise, and became an Indiana legend. Not just a basketball guy, but someone who really stood for the state. Therefore, the Indiana Pacers made the right move in selecting Reggie.
Now how about Paul George’s story? Well, it was 2010, and Gordon Hayward out of Butler University, a college just miles away from Banker’s Life Fieldhouse, had almost taken down Duke with an improbable half court shot. It missed, but the legend of Butler grew that evening in the National Championship game between Butler and Duke. The powerhouse against the little school that could. Hayward had really carried Butler throughout those March Madness games, and upped his draft stock plenty with his ability. The Utah Jazz made this one an easy choice for the Pacers as they took him RIGHT BEFORE the Pacers were set to draft.
The Pacers end up selecting Paul George, a guy that I hadn’t even known, out of Frenso State. But this past season, Paul George’s stock in the NBA has risen plenty as he earned Most Improved Player, Eastern All Star Selection, some votes for Defensive Player of the year, and Third All NBA team. Plenty of up and coming stuff should be in Paul George’ future. But Gordon Hayward still has his fans in Indy, as the Jazz come to play, you’ll see some of his jerseys floating around, and he gets a nice ovation when he comes to play.
Just another comparison to be made between two Indiana Pacers players that almost weren’t that. Paul George is carving his stone into Indiana Pacers lore just as Reggie Miller did. Two guys that know how to find that open look, and want to take that open look. Two guys that you feel the ball is always going in. Two guys that are now faces of this franchise, and two guys that almost didn’t get here.