'It's pretty different': Pacers rookies adjust to life in NBA on and off the court

INDIANAPOLIS — Bennedict Mathurin’s only obligation is basketball, and he has more free time as a result. For two years in college, he was a student who had to balance class with life on the court. Now he has a full-time job with the Pacers.

In his spare time, he wants to learn another language — he already speaks four — and get into investing. In July, he signed his rookie contract, likely worth around $30 million over four years based on the rookie scale and collective bargaining agreement. Eventually, he plans to start taking classes again and finish his degree.

It all underscores the fact that, while basketball is a constant, Mathurin is in a place and situation different from any other point in his life. The obvious question any rookie faces is how will he contribute during the regular season, but for them there’s more to adjust to than 82 nights a year, and it begins in training camp in a new city with new teammates.

“It’s pretty different compared to high school and college,” Mathurin said. “In the NBA, everybody is good. Everybody is competing for a job and everybody’s coming to work 100% of the day. So you gotta make sure you just step on the court like it’s your last time playing and give your 100%.”

A press conference featuring Kendall Brown (left), Rick Carlisle, Kevin Pritchard, Bennedict Mathurin, and Andrew Nembhard, Friday, June 24, 2022, during the players’ introduction at Ascension St. Vincent Center, the Pacers practice facility.
A press conference featuring Kendall Brown (left), Rick Carlisle, Kevin Pritchard, Bennedict Mathurin, and Andrew Nembhard, Friday, June 24, 2022, during the players’ introduction at Ascension St. Vincent Center, the Pacers practice facility.

Langston Galloway began his career in 2015 with the New York Knicks. There, veterans Carmelo Anthony and Arron Afflalo helped him get comfortable in the NBA. Entering his ninth season, he tries to do the same for Mathurin, Andrew Nembhard and Kendall Brown on and off the court.

He’s advised them about how to spend their money wisely as they receive the biggest paychecks of their lives to this point. Galloway, who has played for seven other teams, also helped them with what to look for in an apartment.

“Talk to people about my experiences, No. 1, because I can’t speak for anybody else, but my experiences, and then help them grow,” Galloway said. “That’s what’s most important.”

Brown’s situation is especially unstable because of his status on a two-way contract, meaning he’ll split the season between the Pacers and the Fort Wayne Mad Ants of the G League, eligible for up to 50 NBA games. Two-way deals can be converted into standard contracts, as was the case with Pacers forward Terry Taylor last season. But in the short-term, Brown will likely be shuttling up and down I-69.

It can be mentally taxing, as Taylor, now in his second year out of Austin Peay, learned.

“You got to roll with the punches,” Taylor said. “Some days you’re gonna be with us and you’re not gonna play, and you just got to be a professional and just keep working and keep learning and just keep going through the grind and then you’ll go to the G League and you’ll play and the next thing you know, you're gonna get a call and you got to come with the Pacers. I told him there’s gonna be a lot of that and he’s just got to stick through it.”

Added Brown: “You can’t get down. Just stay even-keeled and be able to perform with the right mindset.”

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Brown did come in prepared for coach Rick Carlisle’s defense-heavy approach to training camp. In fact, a typical Pacers practice often includes more offense than when he played at Baylor. The Bears spent entire practices working on defense. No one touched a ball for two to three hours.

Nembhard, meanwhile, is trying to find his role on the team. At 22, he’s the oldest of the rookies and has focused on playing aggressively, something he said he’s accustomed to but is more important in the NBA than college. He still has the headiness and decision-making prowess that made him a prospect in college, but now wants to develop within the higher expectations of the NBA. In practice, it means getting into the lane as much as possible and forcing the defense to make decisions.

“In this league, it’s different from college in a sense that where if you’re not really a scoring threat, you’re kind of almost useless out there,” he said. “So just being a guy that’s another aggressive player on the court with other four guys just makes our offense so much more dangerous.”

Brown has dealt with the same idea: adding to his game without losing what made him effective at lower levels. His strengths at Baylor were his athleticism and ability to attack the basket. Now, Carlisle wants him to work on spotting up more from the outside.

"That’s a boring part of the game,” Carlisle said. “So he’s got to keep his creative side, but he’s also got to lock into sort of the rote repetition side of the game and he’s doing a good job of it.”

The Pacers will begin the preseason Wednesday, giving the rookies their first taste of NBA competition outside of scrimmages. With another benchmark for each rookie will come another set of obstacles.

Something else, before their first regular season game, to adjust to.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Pacers rookies Mathurin, Nembhard, Brown getting used to NBA