It's not much fun being a teenager with empty pockets. When
Pacers center Jeff Foster was a junior at Madison High in San
Antonio, he had neither a job nor parents who believed in doling
out an allowance. His dad, Stephen, wasn't a total miser,
though. After Jeff's basketball coach told Stephen that his son
should be getting more rebounds, father and son struck a deal:
Get a rebound, get a buck. "My dad was always my coach growing
up, and he saw parents paying their kids to score," Foster says.
Stephen's program included incentives that kicked in when Jeff
reached 15 or 20 boards, making it nearly as complex as the NBA
salary cap--and at times Foster's dad wished there had been a
cap. "I think I made 80 bucks one game," says Jeff.
That wasn't a bad day's pay for a late bloomer who couldn't make
the jayvee team as a sophomore and played only one year of
varsity ball. Credit his development once again to Dad. When
Jeff was a junior, Stephen, who owns a property-management
company, added an indoor half-court to their house. "He has a
master's in architecture and always wanted to build a house in
which he had a half-court gym," Jeff says. "It was nice to wake
up and have that right there."
Foster came into his own at Southwest Texas State; in four years
he grew two inches and 70 pounds. Still, as a 6'11", 240-pound
senior he wasn't counting on an NBA career until his coach, Mike
Miller, told him late in the season that he had a box full of
letters from prospective agents as well as invitations to three
NBA predraft camps. Foster canceled plans to go to Cancun for
spring break and hired a trainer. The Warriors took him 21st in
the 1999 draft, then dealt him to Indiana for Vonteego Cummings
and a No. 1 pick.
As a rookie Foster couldn't crack coach Larry Bird's rotation,
but when Isiah Thomas took over in 2000-01, he gave the long
Texan a long look. Foster responded by averaging 5.5 rebounds in
16.2 minutes; his 16.3 mark per 48 minutes ranked fifth in the
league. Foster is remarkably athletic--he wowed Thomas by dunking
from the free throw line after a practice last year. "I can't be
in the dunk contest because I don't do anything else," laments
Foster, 24. "That's where the white guy thing comes in. I don't
have the rhythm to do a windmill."
What sets Foster apart on the boards, however, is not so readily
apparent. "It's wanting the ball more than your opponent," he
says. "Not a lot of guys want to do a dirty job."
Thomas would love to see Foster blend the skills of two of
Isiah's former teammates and become a Dennis Rodman-type
rebounder with Bill Laimbeer's shooting touch. Foster's not
quite in Laimbeer's class offensively (though he was averaging a
career-best 5.8 points through Wednesday), but it looks as if he
has the Rodman part down. He's second on the Pacers with 7.3
boards per game and ranks sixth in the league in rebounds per 48
minutes (15.4). With an annual salary of $986,400, that comes to
$1,648 per board per game--a handsome raise over what his dad
used to pay.
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID SHERMAN/NBA ENTERTAINMENT