George a pleasant Pacer surprise

MIKE GANTER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:06 PM ET

TORONTO - The same kind of excitement and hope for the future that Ed Davis is giving the Raptors these days, Paul George is giving his Indiana Pacers.

George, taken three picks before Davis in last year’s draft, is a recent addition to the Pacers starting lineup and is loving it.

“It definitely helps the confidence,” George said before Friday night’s game against the Raptors. “I just want to keep this going well.”

George was a bit of a surprise as the No. 10 selection, but only because he didn’t have the lengthy resume most of the other lottery-pegged picks had.

George got a late start in the game and was all but ignored coming out of high school. He has more than made up for lost time since, first starting in his two years at Fresno State and then knocking it out of the park during various workouts prior to the draft, pushing his stock north. His freakish athleticism has the Pacers smiling. The thinking is he has only started to scratch the surface.

His 6-foot-8 frame and outstanding leaping ability make him a tough match for most shooting guards in the league.

It hasn’t been all roses for George since the got to the NBA. After starting the year averaging 20 minutes a night in his first give games, the Pacers coaching staff lost confidence in George and his minutes started to dwindle.

It got worse as he did not see a second of court time from Nov. 23 until Dec. 29.

“The season has had its up and downs, but for the most part I dealt with the adversity early on and it turned out to be a positive and I think I’m helping my team in a good way,” George said.

Indiana head coach Frank Vogel can barely contain himself when the subject is George.

“The one thing about Paul George that you can’t really evaluate in the draft of anything like that is he’s one of the best listeners that I’ve ever coached,” Vogel said, “not just executing a certain game plan or something like that, but if you teach him something, he does it and you don’t have to teach him again. He just picks things up like a sponge and grows and improves and that’s a big part of why we think he has a big upside.”

George said those early troubling times made him realize how much he wanted basketball and how much more committed he had to be if he was going to make a go of this.

“I went from playing to not playing to not even dressing,” George said of the low point of his season. “That was really the point in time when I really lived in the gym. I would stay after practice and go in on off days and lift. I knew this was something that I wanted to do and not playing was something I definitely didn’t want to do. So I had to really ask myself what I wanted. It took myself to push myself on those days.”

Now it’s all paying off for both George and the Pacers.

But the very best thing about being Paul George right now? Any time he wants he can get the undivided attention of a basketball legend whether it’s on the team plane or between games or practices.

Pacers president Larry Bird makes himself readily available to his promising rook and George takes advantage as much as possible.

“It’s pretty much on me,” George said of the opportunity. “Larry always has his door open if you want to talk to him so any chance I’m feeling like I want to learn something or ask him something I can always go to his office.”

The only problem then is explaining to his own father that the Bird access does not extend to players’ families.

“It’s surreal,” George said. “Every time I tell my dad I’ve been talking to Larry Bird he flips out. He tells me to put him on the phone.”


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