Reminders he had made it to the bigtime were everywhere. Nevertheless, there were moments Ian Mahinmi felt like pinching himself just to make sure.
Mahinmi turned 21 at the outset of the 2007-08 NBA season. Playing for San Antonio, the franchise responsible for drafting him two years earlier, he was running the floor with Spurs icons Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, the latter a fellow Frenchman.
“My first year I did have to pinch myself a lot. There were a lot of big names around me, guys like Tony, Tim, Manu (Ginobili), Big Shot Rob (Robert Horry) and Bruce Bowen,” said Mahinmi, the first-year Indiana Pacers player who backs up starting center Roy Hibbert. “Then you get used to it and realize they’re just human beings like you.”
Referring to Mahinmi as well-traveled doesn’t quite cover it.
Before coming to Indianapolis via a July trade with Dallas for point guard Darren Collison and swingman Dahntay Jones, the 6-foot-11 post played four seasons professionally in his native France, three with the Spurs and another two with the aforementioned Mavericks.
There were hard and good times along the way.
He had a brief stint in the NBA Development League with the Austin Toros in 2007, not to mention the NBA title he contributed to as a Mavs’ backup a few years later.
Years of strength training and proper diet have given Mahinmi, now a solid 230 pounds, a body capable of enduring the rigors of an 82-game regular-season schedule and whatever postseason series may ensue. This is a far cry from the summer night in 2005 when so-called league experts wondered why San Antonio would use the No. 28 selection overall on the slender young man from Rouen.
Mahinmi played in only six games for the Spurs in 2007-08; but his minutes, confidence and production have since increased significantly. Statistically speaking, the 2011-12 season in Dallas was Mahinmi’s finest with career-bests in starts (12), scoring (5.8) and rebounds (4.7).
His court time has gone down only slightly as a Pacer, from 18.7 minutes per game for the Mavs to 16.5 for Indiana. However, Mahinmi supplies much-needed frontcourt depth for a franchise sorely lacking in this department in recent seasons.
His present averages of 5.4 points, 3.9 boards and one block have been huge in the team enjoying success even without injured swingman Danny Granger.
The writing to some degree was on the wall during the Pacers’ five-game preseason slate in which Mahinmi averaged 12 points and 5.8 boards. Two-thirds into the regular season, his top mark in points is 14 during a December loss at Milwaukee; against Washington two weeks later Mahinmi pulled down a season-high 11 rebounds.
Not to be overlooked is Mahinmi’s NBA playoff resume, which to date shows a dozen games with an average of 20.3 minutes played. Don’t think Indiana coach Frank Vogel won’t be reminded of this once the Pacers lock up a third consecutive postseason appearance.
How Mahinmi performs in the coming weeks could have a significant impact on where the Pacers are seeded.
He’s already lived out one dream by making it to the NBA and a second by winning a championship. Who knows? Perhaps a third gets Mahinmi some serious air time back home.
“It’s very different growing up overseas because back in the day there was very little NBA on TV,” he said. “Once a week they had this show that came out. Highlights, a top 10. I never missed it.”
Mahinmi also would see plenty of Parker, who by calling Paris home resides only 45 minutes southeast of Mahinmi when both are in France.
The two friends text frequently during the NBA season. Mahinmi, who is four years younger, is greatly appreciative of the advice and words of encouragement.
“He’s just a great guy to have in your corner,” Mahinmi said.