- The Washington Times - Monday, February 9, 2009

Roy Hibbert is enduring the typical pangs of a first-year player in the NBA.

He is having to adjust to the speed of the game, the quickness of the players, the grind of the 82-game season and the playing time that comes in uncertain spurts.

He has started 14 games this season. But he was also banished to the end of the bench at one point because of foul problems and an inability to defend the opposition’s pick-and-roll plays.

Now he is making his way back into the rotation and learning anew the value of being able to absorb the inevitable disappointments of the NBA. His time will come with sweat and persistence.

“I’m always telling my family and friends that I could get a DNP [did not play], so don’t get upset,” Hibbert said following the Pacers’ shootaround in Tony Cheng’s neighborhood on Sunday morning.

It was in preparation of his second trip this season to the floor on which he became an NBA-worthy player. His first in December was forgettable: two points, two rebounds and four fouls in 12 minutes.

The 7-foot-2 product of Georgetown University is having what he calls an “up-and-down season,” the result of perhaps being a step slow on defense or matchups that sometimes do not complement a traditional center.

He is learning that rookies curry no favor with the referees, that back-to-back game nights sap the legs of even the most physically fit, that a team might lose more games in a month than a top-tier college team would lose in a season.

Hibbert already has experienced that reality with the rebuilding Pacers, coming as he does from the last two Hoyas teams that fashioned a 30-7 record in 2006-07 and a 28-6 record last season.

Not that the laid-back Hibbert is inclined to complain.

He is guaranteed $3 million in his first two seasons and expresses the conviction that he eventually can become a serviceable starting center in the NBA, if not become one who can impose his will on a game.

And it could be considerably worse. He could be with a team that is cursed by the questions enveloping its franchise player, as it is with the Wizards.

“It’s a learning process,” Hibbert said. “It’s about staying mentally focused, even if you are not getting into the game. There was a stretch of games where I didn’t play much. You can’t worry about that because your number might be called the next game.”

Pacers coach Jim O’Brien found it necessary to employ Hibbert’s massive body against Magic center Dwight Howard on Friday night, a tactic that produced mixed results.

Hibbert had 10 points, three rebounds and two blocked shots in 16 minutes. He also incurred six fouls, although the Pacers used a version of the hack-a-Shaq defense on Howard in the fourth quarter.

“I have to do a better job of not picking up ticky-tack fouls,” Hibbert said.

That is the lot of a rookie, flashes of competence mixed with bouts of frustration.

That is especially so for Hibbert, whose skill level exceeds his athleticism. He never will be one of the fleetest and quickest centers in the NBA. His development will hinge in part on his mastery of the professional game’s nuances.

Hibbert watched part of the Georgetown-Cincinnati game on Saturday before having to board a team flight that would take him to his hometown.

“They’re going through a rough stretch right now,” he said of the Hoyas, who have dropped six of seven games. “I’ve been calling them, telling them to keep their heads up.”

Once in the District, Hibbert and family members made their way to the Peking Gourmet Inn, a Chinese restaurant in Falls Church that was once the favorite of President George H.W. Bush.

Hibbert brought a cheering section - “about 40 to 45 family and friends” - to the Pacers-Wizards game on Sunday night, to a den that has lost its basketball vitality.

At least the distraught faithful received another look at a player who cut his basketball teeth here.

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