INDIANAPOLIS – 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."
"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."