'We sincerely missed y'all!': Pacers reintroduced themselves to fans at their annual FanJam

DeJon Jarreau gave it his all in the rookie show and the 3-point shootout went into bonus time.

Pacers fans gathered at Gainbridge Fieldhouse Sunday afternoon for a fresh look at the renovated arena, the new coaching staff and this new group that is highlighted by lottery pick Chris Duarte.

Lines were around The Fieldhouse as fans made their way inside, the first event without limitations since the pandemic. The first 5,000 fans were treated to free concession items and dozens went home with autographed items. It helped all involved that the Colts were off, not scheduled to play until the following day in Baltimore on Monday Night Football.

It’s the first event that has felt … normal(ish) in quite a while. For reporters, it was the first time we were allowed courtside again, and it was oh so sweet.

“It felt great,” Myles Turner agreed. “More than anything, having the fans back in the building was the biggest thing — having them around, having their spirit and enjoy it. I think it’s one of those genuine little events that everyone looks forward to. It was good just to get this thing rolling again.”

At 12:05 p.m., Chris Denari grabbed a microphone and introduced every player. They ran out of the Pacers tunnel and meet at mid-court, except for T.J. Warren (left foot) and Justin Holiday (left ankle sprain) because they’re both sidelined with injuries.

“Well, he’s walking today; he wasn’t walking yesterday so he’s made progress.” head coach Rick Carlisle said afterwards of Holiday. The two sat together at the scorer’s table for the 3-point contest.

“As far as a timetable, none yet. Hopefully sooner rather than later, but we can’t make a mistake and get him out there too quick either. His history has been he hasn’t missed a lot of games, he’s been a fast healer, but I know he’ll work hard at it and day-to-day we’ll just see how he progresses.”

Denari, who’s entering his 16th season at the TV Voice of the Pacers and was the most recent guest on the Fieldhouse Files podcast, then welcomed back Carlisle as head coach and handed him the microphone at 12:12 p.m.

(It was a moment and experience, by the way, that former head coach Nate Bjorkgren never had. A year ago, the Pacers were still going through an exhaustive coaching search. He was fired eight months later.)

“Good afternoon, how’s everybody doing?” he said. “It’s great to be back.”

Indeed it was. Over the next 90 minutes, the team entertained fans with a scrimmage, skills challenge, 3-point contest and then the much-anticipated rookie show — in which two-way guard DeJon Jarreau put together a memorable performance.

But more than anything, I’ll remember seeing the legitimate fun the guys had. I’ll remember seeing several players turning over their shoulder, to the third row of the stands (and first row of fans) to see their kids. Like Christopher Duarte Jr., like Trace McConnell. And the entire Turner family was in town and back at The Fieldhouse.

“This has been a great event ever since its inception,” Carlisle said. “It’s such a goodwill gesture by the teams in the league and a lot of them don't get to see the team during the year. It’s an exuberant group of fans, it was a good show.”

Team Scrimmage

The scrimmage portion consisted of two 12-minute quarters that were mostly running the entire time. It was good to see Keifer Sykes out there able to play after he was held out of their second preseason game with a right ankle sprain.

White Team, coached by Ronald Nored: McConnell, Lamb, Craig, Brissett, Sabonis; Sykes, Hinton, Bitadze.

Blue Team, coached by Mike Weinar: Brogdon, Duarte, Martin, Jackson, Turner; Washington Jr., Wanamaker; Jarreau, Taylor.

The Blue Team led 27-20 after the first quarter. The Pacemates then performed on the court between quarters, all wearing masks.

Caris LeVert (sore lower back) is missing training camp as he deals with lower back soreness. A cool moment I witnessed in front of me. With his iPhone in his right hand at mid-court, he walked towards the Pacers’ usual bench and Carlisle stopped him. He slapped the seat between he and assistant Lloyd Pierce as if to say, “Hey, join us.”

The intensity was impressive for a casual scrimmage in front of fans. They had just completed a practice across the street at their practice facility, so they were loose and ready to go. But at previous FanJams, it’s felt more like an All-Star game — with random players launching from 35 feet, lots of alley-oops and little to no defense.

On brand for what this coaching is preaching, defense was evident during these 24 minutes.

After being down by seven after the first session, the White Team came back and won easily, 60-50.

We were now 45 minutes into the event and before they got set up for the skills challenge, the Pacers Power Pack got the crowd going with their usual high-flying dunks.

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