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Backup has paid his dues to be in NBA

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No one can accuse Chris Copeland of not earning his place on the Indiana Pacers’ bench.

The past eight years have included D-League bus rides and flights across the Atlantic Ocean to play inside of facilities even the most ardent basketball diehards don’t know or care about.

Connecting the dots to make Copeland’s career arc is dizzying: Fort Worth to Spain to the Netherlands to Germany to Belgium and, finally, back to the United States.

“It’s been crazy, man. Lots of ups and downs,” said the 6-foot-8 forward, who spent the 2012-13 season as a member of the New York Knicks before signing a two-year, $6 million contract with Indiana in July.

“It’s mind-boggling to be here given the situations I’ve been through and the situations that looked like I wasn’t going to make it,” he said.

Copeland is a major component of Indiana’s off-season attempts at bolstering its productivity among bench players.

Having played in 37 games prior to Wednesday’s home matchup with Detroit, Copeland has no starts and averages 2.9 points in 5.7 minutes of playing time.

This is a departure from his lone season with the Knicks.

Copeland’s tour of the Big Apple included 56 games, 13 starts and an 8.7 scoring average. The 15.7 minutes he was good for is nearly triple what he receives now.

Copeland’s 235-pound frame combined with a soft perimeter shooting touch allows Pacers coach Frank Vogel options when it comes to what stretches the New Jersey native plays.

Last season Copeland delivered good on 59 of 140 (.421) 3-pointers. He’s 22 of 59 (.373) with the Pacers.

Whether it’s his ability to bury from long range, the dreadlocks or easy smile, Copeland has emerged as a favorite of Indiana fans.

“It might be all of those reasons,” Copeland said, laughing. “I’m extremely blessed. I feel fortunate to have these people rally around me. I don’t know why they do, but I’m appreciative.”

Maybe it’s because they know most or all of his story.

How Copeland, undrafted out of the University of Colorado in the 2006 NBA Draft, started at the absolute ground floor of professional basketball only to defy odds and work his way up.

Showing he belonged in the NBA called for a stint in 2007 with the Fort Wayne Flyers, an NBA Development League franchise that folded after only two seasons.

Copeland eventually began making a name for himself abroad, showcasing his game in Europe for four different franchises from 2007-12.

He wouldn’t play his first NBA regular-season game until he was 28.

Copeland’s best moments statistically this season were 13 points in a loss at Chicago on Nov. 16 and the 11 scored at Charlotte on March 5. Copeland converted 6 of 9 3-point opportunities in those games combined. His highest rebound total to date is four in a blowout victory over the visiting Knicks on Jan. 16.

The Pacers aren’t playing their best basketball of the season, which has limited Copeland’s playing time as Vogel attempts to maximize the efforts of his core players.

Nonetheless, the simple fact Copeland is finally an NBA player makes his story heartwarming.

“I never gave up, but it was frustrating. I wanted to be here. I wanted to make it, and it didn’t look like it would happen for me. I got little workouts here and there, but I never got over the hump. Never got to summer league, never got something substantial, so it was really frustrating not to get an opportunity,” he said.

“I’m beyond grateful for this chance, and that trumps everything. But I’m still a competitor first, and I would like to help us if I can.”

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