Struggling Roy Hibbert responded to a rash of criticism with a surprising 28 point effort in the Indiana Pacers game two win against the Washington Wizards, which his Georgetown coach John Thompson III watched from the stands. Thompson spoke with Hibbert before the game to offer encouragement and to remind the center he remains a standout player. While the Pacers were hoping for an improved stat line from their starting center in Game Two, the 28 point blast exceeded everyone’s expectations. The team hopes that Hibbert’s improved play continues throughout the series and beyond.
The struggling player suffered jeers from all quarters after the first game of the series in which he logged zero points and rebounds, coupled with five fouls. He drew the jokes of former players Tracy McGrady and Gilbert Arenas, each spoofing Hibbert’s rough outing. McGrady, the former NBA star and fledgling minor league pitcher, noted on Twitter that the center had the same zero point and rebound totals in the game as he did. Arenas, who still is paid not to play by the Orlando Magic, blasted the center on Instagram. While the online taunts of former players appear to be piling on the beleaguered center, they are indicative of the depth of his struggles.
Toward the end of the regular season, through the first round of the playoffs against the Atlanta Hawks and continuing in Game One against the Wizards, Hibbert appeared to contract the Rick Ankiel disease. He looked as if he forgot how to play. Ankiel, a successful young pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1999 and 2000, forgot how to pitch in the 2000 post-season and was never the same again. The exact cause was unknown, although Ankiel has said he started over-thinking each pitch. While basketball is more free-flowing than baseball such that the players do not have the time to ponder their mechanics each time down the court, Hibbert could be guilty of putting too much thought into his game. He is not an athletic player as anyone watching him in college could attest. He developed strength and footwork over time. The center possibly has been trying to think through his footwork as the plays pass by him.
John Thompson III has kept close contact with Hibbert after he left school for the NBA. Thompson was instrumental in making the big man an NBA All Star. After Thompson first saw Hibbert in a workout at Georgetown soon after he assumed the coaching reigns, he questioned his brother Ronnie regarding the center’s recruitment. Ronnie Thompson was the Georgetown assistant coach most responsible for the center choosing to play for the Hoyas. Thompson noted that Hibbert could not even run, much less play basketball. He encouraged Hibbert to put in the effort to become a standout player and has remained in his corner ever since.
Whatever John Thompson said to Roy Hibbert in their private moments before Game Two, the player certainly responded. The prideful center no doubt took some of the jeers to heart and played his best game of this year’s playoffs last night. The Pacers fans hope he can continue to channel the support of his former college coach into further playoff success.
Commentary by William Costolo