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Article updated: 4/17/2011 7:16 PM

Vogel made impressive jump from Jersey Shore to Pacers bench

Indiana Pacers head coach Frank Vogel directs his team during the first quarter in Game 1 of a first-round NBA playoff basketball series against the Bulls in Chicago, Saturday, April 16, 2011.

Indiana Pacers head coach Frank Vogel directs his team during the first quarter in Game 1 of a first-round NBA playoff basketball series against the Bulls in Chicago, Saturday, April 16, 2011.

 

Associated Press

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When Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel was in junior high, he made an appearance on David Letterman's "Stupid Human Tricks." His act was spinning a basketball on the end of a toothbrush, while brushing his teeth.

This obviously made Vogel a mini-celebrity in Wildwood, N.J., the Atlantic coast resort town where he grew up.

"In Wildwood? It was huge," Vogel said with a laugh.

A few years later, Vogel transferred from Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pa., to the University of Kentucky with the faint hope of learning something about basketball from then-Wildcats coach Rick Pitino.

"I met Rick Pitino at Five Star basketball camp for about a minute, probably," Vogel recalled. "He said, 'Well if you come down and we can help you, let us know.' At that point, I decided to take that leap of faith and pursue this dream."

If Vogel can make the leap from Jersey Shore to NBA head coach by age 37, should we have any doubt that his Pacers will bring serious attitude to their first-round playoff series against the top-seeded Bulls?

Vogel wasn't on anyone's radar when he replaced Jim O'Brien as head coach of the Pacers on Jan. 30, but he's gotten better results. Indiana was 17-27 when the change was made and finished the season 20-18. Not great, necessarily, but better.

"They're playing at a faster speed," Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. "I think a big part of it is at the beginning of the season, (Tyler) Hansbrough was out, (Danny) Granger was out, (Mike) Dunleavy was out. You add them to the mix, they're a more potent offensive team, but they're playing at a quicker pace. They've always been a high-scoring team and I thought their defense improved quite a bit, also."

Here are a couple more fun facts about Vogel:

• A college roommate told the Indianapolis Star News that Vogel used to fall asleep every night to the movie "Hoosiers" playing on the VCR in his room.

• He also reportedly sprinkles inspirational clips from "Rocky" into the Pacers' video sessions. Wildwood is in southern New Jersey, about 40 miles south of Atlantic City, which makes it more of a Philadelphia vacation spot. That might explain Vogel's obsession with the iconic underdog boxer.

Growing up in a resort town came with some odd circumstances. Vogel's hometown was filled with people who ran hotels in the summer, then fled to Florida in the winter. All the other houses on his block would be empty during the school year.

The Pacers had Game 1 at the United Center locked down like Wildwood after Labor Day, until the Bulls unleashed a 16-1 run in the final 3:38.

After the colossal comeback, Vogel stayed defiant, suggesting Derrick Rose should have attempted less than 21 free throws and promising the Pacers aren't going anywhere.

"Our guys know we should have won the game," Vogel said in the interview room. "We can play with this team. We can play with any team in the NBA."

Vogel has plenty in common with Thibodeau. He wasn't a great player, but he earned a shot in the NBA with an insatiable work ethic. Pitino eventually brought Vogel with him to the Boston Celtics as a video coordinator. He went on to join O'Brien's staff in Philadelphia and Indiana.

The biggest difference is Vogel got a chance to be a head coach at age 37, while Thibodeau waited until he was 51.

"The framework Tom has built throughout his career is definitely something I envy and respect the heck out of," Vogel said. "If I could be as good a coach as he is someday, I'd be pretty good."

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