August 13, 2022

INDIANAPOLIS — Bennedict Mathurin appeared just as calm and confident after his first summer league practice with the Pacers as he was before, during and after the NBA draft process.

After completing some shooting practice at the end of practice last week, Mathurin took to the media to answer questions about a “fun” first day with the team. Mathurin repeatedly expressed his eagerness to play in the summer league by smiling at his #00 Pacers jersey.

Yet, amid all the excitement, Mathurin is focused solely on his work. He’s in Indiana to compete and win for a long time, but he’s not setting any specific individual goals yet.

“There’s really no expectation for me,” Mathurin said. “I just have to go out there and do what I do. Compete every day, every game, I will bring the energy. But also having fun, playing basketball, that’s what I like to do.

The NBA rookie on playing against LeBron James

However, Mathurin has one goal in mind: to compete with LeBron James. Ahead of the NBA Draft, Mathurin spoke to The Washington Post and his comments about playing James went viral. He told the Post, “(James) is going to have to show me he’s better than me.”

Mathurin clarified that the comments were not an affront to James or his status as one of the best NBA players of all time. Instead, Mathurin wanted to express his self-confidence and excitement about playing against guys like James this season.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver (left) and Bennedict Mathurin pose for photos after Mathurin was drafted the No. 6 overall pick by the Pacers in last month’s NBA draft.

“It’s about my self-confidence,” Mathurin said. “I think he’s the best player to have played this game. … But me who just came into the league, I won’t say anyone is better than me. It’s me who is confident. I know who LeBron James is. There is no (another) LeBron James, there won’t be any more.”

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Mathurin’s main goal during the summer league is to learn the NBA game and be as prepared as possible before the regular season. He wants to adapt to the spacing in professional play, the deeper 3-point line and the pace of the league.

Learning to play defense in the NBA is another goal for Mathurin and it’s something summer league coach Ronald Nored emphasized on the first day of practice. Nored has put X’s on the pitch to indicate where each player should be on defense. He also teaches youngsters how to keep pick and rolls in the NBA and resume different patterns.

Mathurin embraces the early learning process during the summer league. He wants to prove to the team what a versatile playmaker he can be and how great a teammate he intends to be.

Nored and Pacer sophomore Chris Duarte said they were excited to learn more about the Arizona product and see him progress through the summer. But after the first practice, it was clear to everyone that Mathurin had a winning, competitive attitude and there was no doubting his sheer athletic ability.

“The athleticism and natural ability is real,” Nored said. “His ability to put the ball on the ground, to reach the rim, he made the right readings today, he did a great job. We are working a lot on the reading for everyone. We are all young and need to learn. But we did a good job with it. And just the atmosphere around the gym, he’s having fun with the guys. Everyone’s having fun with him. It’s a very good environment.

This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Why NBA rookie Bennedict Mathurin issued a bold challenge to LeBron James