Mathurin’s Fire Fueling Special Rookie Season

Bennedict Mathurin is not your typical rookie.

While most first-year players take some time to adjust to the speed and scale of the NBA game, Mathurin has launched his rookie season the same way he attacks the rim — fearless.

The Pacers knew Mathurin was different even before they picked him with their sixth overall pick in the 2022 NBA draft. When he visited Indianapolis for pre-draft practice on June 10 — nine days before his 20th birthdayth Birthday – Mathurin was tested ‘off the charts’, according to Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle.

But he couldn’t “ring the bell” on a 3-point shooting practice that requires players to take five shots from five different spots beyond the arc and get 20 out of 25. Dined with the front office in Indiana and decided to ask a question.

“Is the gym open tonight?”

So later that evening, Carlisle and Mathurin went back to the Ascension St. Vincent Center for a second practice. They spent over an hour together, discussing footwork and doing target practice again – and yes, this time Mathurin rang the bell.

Mathurin flew out the next morning, but two weeks later he was back in Indianapolis for his pre-draft press conference.

Mathurin carries himself with the confidence of someone who always knew he was destined for the NBA, but it was far from an easy journey to the pros. Born in Montreal to a Haitian mother, Mathurin left his family and Canada at the age of 16 to attend the NBA Global Academy in Mexico City.

He coached in the NBA’s young international development program for two years (other NBA Global Academy alumni include Oklahoma City keeper Josh Giddey and New Orleans keeper Dyson Daniels) before attending the University of Arizona.

After a solid freshman season, Mathurin broke out as a sophomore in Arizona, became the Wildcats’ top scorer and was named Pac-12 Player of the Year and second-team consensus All-American. Suddenly his dreams came true.

Immediately after his call-up, Mathurin made his presence felt both in Indiana and throughout the league. He dominated Summer League action in Las Vegas, averaging 19.3 points and 4 assists in three games. This strong game carried over to the training camp and the pre-season. The Pacers rookie was already making waves in Circle City on opening night.

When Mathurin checked in against Washington midway through the first quarter of the Oct. 19 game, the crowd at Gainbridge Fieldhouse gave him a loud ovation. They cheered even louder seconds later as the rookie made his first touch down the left wing, delivering an immediate right at Wizards 7ft 3 center Kristaps Porzingis and a right runner over the outstretched arms of one of the best in the world transformed shot blockers.

That single game embodied the way Mathurin plays the game – full of confidence and all the time.

“Benn’s advantage is that he’s extremely aggressive,” said Pacers point guard Tyrese Haliburton. “He was drafted to put the ball in the basket. He is a very aggressive basketball player who can score in many different ways. ”

In fact, Mathurin quickly proved that his score took it to the next level. He scored 19 points in his NBA debut and poured in 26 and 27 points in his next two contests. It took him just seven games to break the 30-point streak, and he hit double digits in each of the first nine competitions of his career.

Mathurin can score in many ways. He can heat up from the 3-point range in a hurry and shoot from the bow 34-75 (45.4 percent) in his first 12 NBA games. He can also soar over the edge — something he showed in his first-ever game at Gainbridge Fieldhouse on Oct. 13, when he sealed a preseason win over New York with a breakway windmill slam.

But perhaps the most impressive aspect of Mathurin’s game is his ability to reach the free-throw line, a rare trait for a beginner. Because he grips the rim so relentlessly, Mathurin can make a lot of contact. He attempted 10 or more free throws in three of his first nine contests.

“The only thing I’m so impressed with (Mathurin) is that he’s just fearless,” Carlisle said. “He just keeps playing his game and doesn’t give up – he still believes in his abilities. And he’s an attacker, he’s a rare young player who’s just unimpressed.”

Two competitions earlier in the season shed light on Mathurin’s unique mindset.

His third NBA game was on October 22 against the Pistons. Detroit had drafted former Purdue star Jaden Ivey with the fifth overall pick of the 2022 draft, one spot ahead of Mathurin.

There was a lot of fuss about the matchup between the two rookie guards. As might be expected, Ivey had a sizeable cheering group that night at Gainbridge Fieldhouse. But Mathurin got the better of Ivey, scoring 27 points off the bench on 10-of-18 shooting (5-of-8 from 3-point range) and leading Indiana to a 124-115 win.

After that, Mathurin didn’t disagree when asked if playing against a player drafted before him gave him extra motivation.

“I know exactly who was drafted before me,” he said. “It’s nothing personal, but I’ll make sure they know who I am every time I step onto the pitch.”

A week later, the Pacers were in Brooklyn to take on Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and the Nets. Mathurin again showed his penchant for taking the spotlight, dropping 32 points in 33 minutes as the Pacers hit the nets. Mathurin went into the win 6-on-9 from the 3-point area and 10-on-10 from the free-throw line.

“I watched (Durant and Irving) grow and I felt like tonight was an opportunity for me to show myself,” he said after the win. “And I think I did pretty well.”

Although he sometimes looks like he can only succeed with a combination of athletic ability and willpower, Mathurin also possesses an unusual work ethic. In a Q&A with The Ringer, Haliburton revealed that after the games, Mathurin will head to the back of the crew plane to watch a movie with Carlisle, an anecdote that indicates Mathurin’s willingness to take his development one step further.

Mathurin’s play on the court quickly made him popular with Pacers fans. A quick scan around Gainbridge Fieldhouse on any game night and you’ll have no trouble spotting 00 shirts. This number will continue to grow in the coming weeks, months and even years.

“The fans love him,” said Pacers forward Isaiah Jackson. “I love to see it. It kind of brings the energy of the whole team. When he gets it going, the whole team just picks up that energy and it picks it all up. You can just feel that.”

The Pacers had only one player to win the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award – Chuck Person in 1986-87. Mathurin aims to bring the award back to Indiana for the first time in over three decades.

And if Bennedict Mathurin has something in mind, pay attention.

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