After having just three big men available for the first day of training camp, Frank Vogel was glad to see that number grow Saturday -- not just for the quantity but the quality.
Veteran Jeff Foster and free agent Jeff Pendergraph both signed contracts and hit the practice court at Conseco Fieldhouse.
Foster is entering his 13th season with the Pacers, second in franchise history to Reggie Miller. However long he plays, the 34-year-old big man hopes to finish his career where it began.
"This is my home," Foster said. "There were some mixed emotions when certain teams called with different opportunities. I knew the right decision was to come back here and be one of the few people that have an opportunity to play an entire career in one city. That's something I've always admired about old-school guys.
"David Robinson was my idol growing up and he was fortunate enough to do that. I was fortunate to come in here and have a mentor in Reggie Miller who was able to do that. If I end up second in years played in Pacers history behind Reggie Miller, in my opinion that's a pretty darned good accomplishment."
Foster, who ranks third in franchise history in offensive rebounds (2,083), fourth in games (753) and fifth in total rebounds (5,206), averaged 16.8 minutes, 3.3 points and 6.3 rebounds in 56 games last season. Beyond his defense, rebounding and energy, the veteran's leadership presence will be extremely valuable for this otherwise young team.
"He's a tremendous leader," said Vogel, "and it just adds to the value in having him back here."
The 6-9, 240-pound Pendergraph is a high-energy player who can play both frontcourt positions off the bench. He spent his rookie season with Portland in 2009-10 but was waived after tearing an ACL during the preseason and sat out last year.
Despite his long absence from the game, Pendergraph showed few signs of rust in his first practice with the Pacers.
"He fits this team because he is a scrappy type of player," said Vogel. "He goes hard. We did a rebounding drill and our blue team couldn't keep him off the glass. It was just one rule: you've got to get three rebounds in a row. And they could not get him off the glass. He was just that relentless. And he took about four charges today. He's a dirty-work player."
That's a tag Pendergraph embraces. He's carried it with him ever since his days as a high school teammate of Darren Collison in Etiwanda, Calif.
"He's another version of Tyler (Hansbrough), he's real energized on the court, he's extremely competitive and regardless of how he does in a game he's always going to play hard," said Collison. "As soon as he comes off that bench and comes into the game, look for him to get after it right away.
"… He doesn't care about his offense. He's going to get the rebounds, he's going to make sure he screens his man, he's going to do all the dirty work. He can shoot the ball extremely well but that's not even on his mind. It's just about playing hard."
An outgoing, upbeat and engaging personality, Pendergraph relishes the role.
"I don't take nothing from nobody," he said with a smile. "I'm always in everybody's faces regardless of who it is -- in a respectful way. I'm not like crazy dude. But regardless of the situation my presence is known.
"I just try to bring energy and toughness and all the little intangibles you can control doing every day. I can't control how many minutes I have or how many points I can get. I might not even touch the ball. But I can set good screens, I can crash the boards, box my guy out, just the little stuff. I think that's what I'm pretty good at."
D-League rookies Jarrid Famous (South Florida) and Matt Rogers (Southwest Baptist) also joined the team, giving the Pacers seven frontcourt players among the 16 in camp.
Foster was the first of the Pacers' free agents to sign and may well be the last.
Mike Dunleavy (Milwaukee) and T.J. Ford (San Antonio) already have signed with new teams, while Josh McRoberts has drawn interest from Portland, Memphis and the Lakers.
"(Foster) has been and is the kind of player we want in our uniform," Larry Bird said. "His work ethic, his competitiveness, his hustle, the spark he brings to a game and his locker room presence set an example for every player. We are elated to have him back."