Playing his college ball at Fresno State limited the amount of exposure that Paul George received, but that didn’t stop the Pacers from making him a lottery pick. Before he breaks out on the national scene learn more about George in this feature from our latest issue, and make sure to pick up SLAM 142 today. — Ed.
by Ryne Nelson
Two words perfectly describe Pacers’ rookie Paul George’s game. But giving those words away now wouldn’t be any fun. After all, you may not have even seen George play yet, and some background won’t hurt.
One part of George’s story has been told before: Do-it-all talent seemingly comes from out of nowhere to get drafted in the Lottery. Stories like this occasionally continue with brief “flashes of brilliance,” only to end with “never lives up to potential.” But Paul George has too much passion for that to be his fate.
The Palmdale, CA, native grew up admiring Kobe Bryant. (George also dons No. 24 but insists he’s rocked the deuce-four since youth league-well before KB’s ’07 switch.) Like Mamba, George covets hard work and drives himself to improve. “Watching the guys on TV [when I was younger], I wanted to be in their shoes,” says the 20-year-old George. “I was self-motivated to be good.”
The athletic 6-8, 210-pound defensive hound nearly tested the NBA Draft waters in ’09 after a standout freshman season at Fresno State but returned to lead the Bulldogs in points, rebounds and steals as a sophomore. He pushed himself to become a true student of the game, spending countless hours in the gym and watching tape.
It paid off. He skyrocketed up the mock drafts, as NBA scouts clambered out west to catch a glimpse of the lanky Cali talent. For the season, George averaged 16.8 ppg to go with 6.8 rpg. He improved the most at the free-throw line, setting a Fresno record by hitting 91 percent of his FTs, good for seventh in the nation. Not bad for someone who shot under 70 percent from the line as a frosh.
“Just wanting to be better, that’s what it comes down to,” George explains. “If you don’t want to be better, you wouldn’t put yourself in that position to feel pain. It’s all about just wanting to be good. Ain’t no pain in the world knowing that you made it,” he says.
George became the talk of nearly every NBA team’s war room. The Pacers selected him 10th overall, making him Fresno State’s highest pick ever. So he’s made it in that sense. Now, can George ascend to the ranks of NBA All-Star? It’s part of his plan.
“Ten years down the line,” George says, “I see myself sitting on a couple championships. I want to be known as one of the best to do it.”
A Lottery pick without confidence is oxymoronic. But George emits more. He speaks intelligently, with conviction. He looks you in the eye. He says, seriously, “I want to be able to own my own shoes one day, clothing line, open up shops. I want to do more than play basketball.”
But please don’t mistake his seriousness for sedateness. Back in August, at the Panini Rookie Photo Shoot, George was the life of the party, starting dunk contests with fellow rookies, cutting up to the DJ’s tracks and generally being the center of attention. Extroversion is his nature. Humility and logic are his nurture.
The multi-dimensional rookie understands big things start small. This summer, he’s working tirelessly in the weight room to improve his already explosive game. Having height and length are one thing, but it takes more to make noise in the L. And George knows it.
As soon as Team USA member Danny Granger returns from the World Championships in Turkey, George plans to pick his Pacer teammate’s brain. “I look forward to playing alongside him,” George says. “Danny is a tremendous player. So to learn some things from him would be a good start to my rookie year.”
Now, the two words that best describe Paul George’s game: Tracy McGrady. “I see that in him, especially the rookie T-Mac,” says fellow Pacers rookie Lance Stephenson. “Kinda slim, got the hops, got the jumpshot. So I see that T-Mac in him.”
Humble, yet unafraid of the limelight. Under-the-radar, yet sights set on the stars. The profile sounds almost too good to be true, especially for a franchise as win-hungry as Indiana.
“I wanna be like a Tracy McGrady. Before he got injured,” George says. “I wanna be like him. He was a big guard and was able to do so many things.”
It’s a lofty goal, but knowing George, he won’t stop until he’s achieved it.