Pacers F Josh McRoberts could start

Josh McRoberts already is living his dream of playing for his

hometown Pacers.

Now, he could take it a step further and become the team’s

starting power forward.

McRoberts, who was born in Indianapolis and played at nearby

Carmel High School, ran with the first unit during the Indiana

Pacers’ first practice on Tuesday. After the session, he spoke

humbly about the position he finds himself in: With Troy Murphy

traded to New Jersey, he’s left to compete with Tyler Hansbrough,

Solomon Jones, veteran Jeff Foster and rookie Magnum Rolle for the

starting job.

”It doesn’t matter if I’m the last guy on the bench or the

first guy on the floor, I’m always going to feel blessed and lucky

to have this opportunity,” he said. ”I know how lucky I am to be

in my hometown and represent the Pacers.”

The 23-year-old McRoberts was a McDonald’s All-American in high

school. He had a solid career at Duke before Portland took him in

the second round of the 2007 draft. The Trail Blazers traded him

after his rookie year, and the locals were excited to see him

return.

He played sparingly for Indiana during the 2008-09 season, but

he re-signed with the Pacers after they made him a restricted free

agent. He went on to average 4.3 points and 3 rebounds per game

this past season, with career highs of 18 points and 12 rebounds on

April 4 against Houston.

The fans love him for his highlight-reel dunks and blocks, yet

he has only has three career starts and has played in just 75 games

the past two seasons. McRoberts hasn’t played defense consistently,

nor has he rebounded to coach Jim O’Brien’s liking.

O’Brien said McRoberts has done the little things during the

offseason to show he’s ready to be a full-time player. For one, he

played well in the Orlando Summer League. McRoberts embraced the

opportunity to improve his skills.

”I think I still have to come in and earn my spot,” he said.

”I have to come in with a chip on my shoulder every day. I don’t

think I’ll ever lose that.”

McRoberts is in the last year of his contract and wants to earn

an extension. O’Brien’s expectations are high enough that he felt

he needed to have a long talk with McRoberts about his role this

upcoming season.

”I said, you have to be able to run the court on a regular

basis, you have to rebound every shot, and when the ball is in your

hands as a playmaker, you have to take care of the basketball, do

positive things.”

O’Brien continued.

”I said, ‘What is missing?’ He said: ‘Shooting.’ I said ‘That’s

exactly right. You are not being evaluated by me or my staff on

anything other than those three things.”’

O’Brien said he doesn’t expect McRoberts to be the perimeter

threat Murphy was. But, while Murphy was a 6-foot-11 forward who

could open up the court with his 3-point shooting, McRoberts is

faster and more versatile – and hungry for a fairy-tale end to his

hometown story.

”Indiana is where I want to play and where I want to be,” he

said. ”I feel like I can be here for a long time.”