Mathurin’s Fire Fueling Special Rookie Season

Bennedict Mathurin is not your typical rookie.

While most first-year players take some time to acclimate to the speed and size of the NBA game, Mathurin jumped into his rookie season the same way he attacks the rim – fearlessly.

The Pacers knew there was something different about Mathurin even before they took him with the sixth overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. When he visited Indianapolis for a pre-draft workout on June 10 – nine days shy of his 20Th birthday – Mathurin tested “off the charts” according to Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle.

But he failed to “ring the bell” in a 3-point shooting drill where players take five shots from five different spots beyond the arc and must make 20 of 25. Mathurin was still stewing over his performance in the drill during his post-workout meal with the Indiana front office and decided to ask a question.

“Is the gym open tonight?”

So later that evening, Carlisle and Mathurin headed back to the Ascension St. Vincent Center for a second workout. They spent over an hour together, discussing footwork and doing the shooting drill again – and yes, this time Mathurin did ring 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 a straightforward journey to the pros. Born to a Haitian mother in Montreal, Mathurin left his family and Canada at the age of 16 to attend the NBA Global Academy in Mexico City.

He spent two years training in the NBA’s fledgling international developmental program (other NBA Global Academy alums include Oklahoma City guard Josh Giddey and New Orleans guard Dyson Daniels) before attending the University of Arizona.

After a solid freshman season, Mathurin broke out as a sophomore at Arizona, becoming the Wildcats’ go-to scorer and being named Pac-12 Player of the Year and a consensus second-team All-American. Suddenly, his dreams were a reality.

As soon as he was drafted, Mathurin made his presence known, both in Indiana and across the league. He was dominant in Summer League action in Las Vegas, averaging 19.3 points and 4 assists over three games. That strong play carried over into training camp and the preseason. By Opening Night, there was already considerable buzz in the Circle City surrounding the Pacers’ rookie.

When Mathurin checked in midway through the first quarter of the Oct. 19 game against Washington, the crowd in Gainbridge Fieldhouse greeted him with a loud ovation. They were cheering even louder seconds later, as the rookie took his first touch on the left wing and immediately drove right at Wizards 7-foot-3 center Kristaps Porzingis, converting a right-hand runner over the outstretched arms of one of the world’s best shot-blockers.

That single play epitomized the way that Mathurin plays the game – brimming with confidence and all out, all the time.

“The benefit of Benn is he’s ultra-aggressive,” Pacers point guard Tyrese Haliburton said. “What he was drafted to do is put the ball in the hoop. He’s a very aggressive basketball player, can score in a lot of different ways. “

Indeed, Mathurin quickly proved that his scoring translated to the next level. He scored 19 points in his NBA debut, then poured in 26 and 27 over his next two contests. It took him just seven games to surpass the 30-point plateau and he reached double figures in each of the first nine contests of his career.

Mathurin can score in a variety of ways. He can heat up in a hurry from 3-point range, going 34-for-75 (45.4 percent) from beyond the arc over his first 12 NBA games. He can also soar above the rim – something he showed off in his first-ever game at Gainbridge Fieldhouse on Oct. 13, when he sealed a preseason win over New York with a breakaway windmill slam.

But perhaps the most impressive aspect of Mathurin’s game is his ability to get to the free throw line, a rare quality for a rookie. Because he attacks the rim so relentlessly, Mathurin is able to draw a lot of contact. He attempted 10 or more free throws in three of his first nine contests.

“The one thing that I’m so impressed with (Mathurin) is that he is just undaunted,” Carlisle said. “He just continues to play his game and doesn’t get down – continues to have a strong belief in his abilities. And he’s an attacker, he’s a rare young player that’s just unfazed.”

Two early-season contests shed light into Mathurin’s unique mindset.

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

There was plenty of buzz surrounding the matchup between the two rookie guards. As one might expect, Ivey had a sizeable cheering section at Gainbridge Fieldhouse that night. 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.

Afterwards, Mathurin didn’t demur when asked if it gave him extra motivation to go up against a player drafted ahead of him.

“I know exactly who was drafted before me,” he said. “It’s nothing personal, but I’m going to make sure every time I step on the court they’re going to know who I am.”

A week later, the Pacers were in Brooklyn to face off against Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and the Nets. Mathurin once again displayed his penchant for stepping into the spotlight, dropping 32 points in 33 minutes as the Pacers knocked off the Nets. Mathurin went 6-for-9 from 3-point range and 10-for-10 from the free throw line in the victory.

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

Although he makes it seem at times like he can succeed on just the combination of athletic ability and willpower, Mathurin also possesses an uncommon work ethic. In a Q&A with The RingerHaliburton revealed that Mathurin will go to the back of the team plane to watch film with Carlisle after games, an anecdote indicative of Mathurin’s willingness to go the extra mile in his development.

Mathurin’s play on the court has quickly endeared him to Pacers fans. A quick scan around Gainbridge Fieldhouse on any game night and you won’t have trouble spotting 00 jerseys. That number only figures to grow over the coming weeks, months, and even years.

“The fans love him,” Pacers forward Isaiah Jackson said. “I love seeing it. It sort of brings the whole team energy. When he’s got it going, the whole team just sort of picks on that energy and it picks everything up. You can just feel it.”

The Pacers have had just one player win the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award – Chuck Person in 1986-87. Mathurin has his sights set on bringing the award back to Indiana for the first time in over three decades.

And when Bennedict Mathurin has his sights set on something, look out.

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