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New Indiana Pacers head coach has Juniata College roots

(Posted January 31, 2011)

Video clip of Frank Vogel's introductory press conference as Indiana Pacers' interim head coach

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- It could be coincidence that the Indiana Pacers' colors are blue and gold. For those who remember new Pacers interim head coach Frank Vogel during his playing days at Juniata College, they may choose to believe there's a touch of fate involved.

Vogel, hired Sunday following the Pacers' dismissal of fourth-year head coach Jim O'Brien, spent three years in Juniata blue and gold as a member of the men's basketball team from 1991 to 1994.

"Frank was absolutely a leader. He really knew the game of basketball and would come by the office and we'd just sit around and talk basketball - whether it was a college game he'd just watched, or a pro game," said then Juniata head coach Jim Zauzig, who coached on College Hill from 1990 to 1996. "I knew that coaching basketball would be in his future."

After three years as Zauzig's point guard, including a stint as team captain during his junior season, he transferred to the University of Kentucky in 1994, prior to his senior year. Vogel had dreams of becoming a basketball coach, and his dream was to work with UK's Rick Pitino.

Zauzig made some calls to the Wildcats' equipment manager and athletic trainer to try and pry open some doors for Vogel, who had once previously met Pitino at a basketball camp. Zauzig said once Vogel finally got to Lexington and met with Pitino, the former Juniata standout made an impression.

"Once he met with Pitino, I got a call from Pitino and he said 'yes, he's a team player," said Zauzig. "Frank would take Pitino to the airport, pick him up from the airport - pretty much whatever he needed to do."

Vogel served as Kentucky basketball's student-manager in 1994-95, and again during the Wildcats' national championship campaign in 1995-96. After graduating from Kentucky in 1996, he remained with the Wildcats as the team's video coordinator for the 1996-97 season.

It was while at Kentucky that Vogel first met O'Brien, then serving as Pitino's associate head coach.

Both Vogel and O'Brien followed Pitino to the Boston Celtics in May 1997, where O'Brien eventually became head coach from 2001 to 2004. Vogel joined the Philadelphia 76ers as an assistant coach for the 2004-05 season, then became an advance scout for the Los Angeles Lakers (2005-06) and Washington Wizards (2006-07).

When O'Brien was tabbed for the Pacers' head coaching job, he invited Vogel to join his staff at Indiana - where the Wildwood, N.J., native had been serving as an assistant right up until Sunday's announcement.

"This was a dream of his, and a great American story. He had a dream, and 20 years later he's doing what he set out to do," said Zauzig, who described Vogel as a good Division III player and a good Middle Atlantic Conference player. He played smart when he was on the court, and didn't make many mistakes.

"He has a great personality - a very likeable personality - and everybody responded well to him on the team," said Zauzig. "I could see I was getting a smart guy when he said 'yes, I'm coming to Juniata'. He had Division III skills, but he was a very knowledgeable guy. I would say within a year, I thought 'he's going to make a great head coach some day'."

Over the course of his three years at Juniata, Zauzig said he could see Vogel's confidence building a little with each passing season. Zauzig last saw Vogel in Washington, D.C., a few seasons ago, and noted that Vogel was no longer the kid he remembered on the Juniata campus.

In Vogel's media interviews on Sunday, Zauzig saw that assuredness as the former Juniata standout fielded questions about his plans to get the Indiana Pacers into the NBA playoffs.

"I can see an experienced basketball player like (Pacers guard) Mike Dunleavy responding to him," said Zauzig.

Vogel's first chance to get the Pacers to respond to his style of coaching will be Monday night, as Indiana hosts the Toronto Raptors at the Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

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Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.