Indiana Pacers: How Jeff Foster became the Standard for the franchise

Players with hustle, grit, and strong work ethic are the ones that Indiana Pacers fans love. None have embodied those traits quite like Jeff Foster.

One man defines Indiana Pacers basketball, and somehow, he’s a Texas native.

Donning a Pacers jersey in some of the best and worst moments in franchise history, Jeff Foster unknowingly became one of the franchise’s most influential players and set the standard for the Pacers greats that came after.

Almost a Warrior, it was a draft-night trade that brought Foster to the Circle City with Vonteego Cummings and a first-round pick in the 2001 draft (Troy Murphy was later selected) heading to the Bay Area.

Foster averaged just 9.8 points and 8.4 rebounds per game over four seasons at Texas State, typically not stats that call for being selected with the 21st overall pick in the NBA draft. He averaged a double-double each of his last two seasons as a Bobcat including 14.2 points and 11.3 rebounds per game as a senior.

It wasn’t his offensive skills that Pacers brass coveted in Foster, but his rebounding ability was a definite plus. It was his grit and hustle.

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Never quite good enough to be a dangerous player, Foster was always the one that blew up the opposing game plan. He contested every shot, he set hard screens, grabbed what seemed like every rebound, and even had his fair share of poster dunks. Hustle plays, extra effort, and more will power than the other nine players on the court are the things that made Jeff Foster one of the most respected and adored Pacers for the better part of a decade.

What he lacked in talent or ability, Foster more than made up for in hustle. As it turns out, that is the type of player that Pacers’ executives like Larry Bird, Donnie Walsh, and Kevin Pritchard have been searching for since Foster arrived in Indianapolis.

Look at today’s roster for proof.

Hints of Jeff Foster can be found in some of the Pacers best players, past and present

What is T.J. McConnell if not a smaller version of Jeff Foster? In just his first season with the Pacers, McConnell averaged five assists, 2.6 rebounds, and 0.7 steals in less than 20 minutes per contest. He’s tenacious and a pest when it comes to effort-based plays. When it comes to his presence on the court, he’s like a perfect mixture of Foster and Lance Stephenson.

Myles Turner is more athletic than Foster and a much more gifted offensive player. With the recent emergence of Domantas Sabonis, Turner has shifted into a more “Foster-like” role. Rebound the ball, contest every shot, hustle and be in the right place at the right time; these are the things Turner is tasked with.

When it comes to former players, Lance Stephenson took the best attributes of Jeff Foster and put his New York flair on them. He will always be remembered as the only player in NBA history to visibly shake Lebron James. An inconsistent offensive player, “Born Ready’s” defensive abilities consistently saw him guarding the other team’s best player. While it was his antics that were usually in the spotlight, it was Stephenson’s hustle and grit that turned that spotlight his way in the first place.

Two beloved players saw their Pacer careers come to an end after the 2018-19 campaign. Bojan Bogdanovic was a highly gifted offensive player during his time in Indy, but his defensive turnaround with the Pacers netted him an $80 million contract with the Jazz in the offseason.

Thaddeus Young went to Central Division foe, the Chicago Bulls, in the offseason. He guarded every position during his time with the Pacers and did so at a high level. He was the team’s best defender night in and night out for three seasons and never shied away from that role.

This story couldn’t be completed with the upgraded Jeff Foster the Pacers found for the 2011-12 season, Foster’s final campaign.

David West was an all-star in New Orleans. While he wasn’t an all-star in the Circle City, he was possibly the most important player for teams advanced to back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals. An amateur boxer, fans could always count on West for a good hard foul on the other team’s best player. He hit plenty of elbow jumpers on a pick-and-pop. An unselfish player who averaged 14 points and 7 rebounds, West also dished out nearly three assists per contest in his Pacer career.

In the eight seasons since Jeff Foster’s retirement, there’s been a constant search to find those “glue guys” that are willing to do whatever it takes to win. They will all be compared to Jeff Foster, the original Pacers “glue guy”.

For his career, Foster saw action in 764 games (fourth-most in franchise history) for the Pacers over 13 seasons. He’s fourth in franchise history with 5,248 career rebounds behind Pacer greats Mel Daniels (7,643), Dale Davis (6,006), and Rik Smits (5,277). His offensive rebound percentage is the best in the team record book at 15.2 percent.

What kind of hustle player would Foster be without a few fouls? His 1,921 whistles are also fourth in franchise history. Still not convinced that on Foster’s Pacer legacy? He ranks ninth in win shares and 10th in steals.

Next: Indiana Pacers: 30 greatest players in franchise history