By Chetan Khona
Georgia Tech saw the return of one of its favorite sons to the city of Atlanta last Friday night as Travis Best made his professional basketball debut. Best, who finished his four-year career at Tech as the school's all-time assist leader and fourth on the career scoring list, was in town for opening night in the National Basketball Association as his Indiana Pacers faced the hometown Atlanta Hawks.
Best played flawlessly in limited action as the Pacers third point-guard. His one assist in the first half and two crucial free throws in the final minutes with the game in doubt helped his team to a 107-103 road win.
Although he did not get a chance to display his skills that earned him the nickname, "The Springfield Rifle," the Atlantic Coast Conference's second leading scorer last season contributed in other ways. "I was just happy to get in there in front of the Atlanta crowd," said Best.
Originally hailing from Springfield, Massachusetts, Atlanta has been a second home to Best. "I was here, in Atlanta [on the night of the NBA draft]. My whole family came down and we just kind of had a party," said this year's 23rd draft choice.
Although Best enjoys being around his new teammates and a member of such a tight-knit group, being a rookie in the NBA also includes being the team lackey. "You can't get around it. You have to do anything [the veterans] want. It's all in good fun and it is kind of like being drafted into a fraternity," he said.
Pacers' fans may soon be regularly hearing the phrase, "Travis Best to Reggie Miller for THREE!," but it was not that long ago that Tech fans heard the name of James Forrest on the receiving end of a Best assist. "We were like brothers when we were at Tech and we hung together all the time. I still keep in touch with him," added Best.
Both Best and Forrest attended the opening game of the 1995-1996 men's basketball season the previous night to cheer on the Yellow Jackets. "[The team] was like a family when I was there and I think that tradition will continue. Anytime I can, I like to come on by and see those guys and encourage them to do well," emphasized Best.
Coach Cremins may have wished Best and Forrest did more than watch as the team lost the exhibition game in overtime, but the tradition of top-notch point guards that Best was a part of, was handed down, along with his number three jersey, to freshman Stephon Marbury.
"[Marbury] played great! He probably had a lot of pressure on him to just to score, so he was shooting a lot. When Drew [Barry] and some of the other guys come back, he'll play even better," said Best.
As for Best, he is glad to be on the Pacers' squad but has his eye out for more playing time in the near future. It is not likely that Indiana will entrust the ball to a rookie without proof that he can run a team that has hopes of an NBA title this year. As Coach Larry Brown gains confidence in Best, Pacers' fans will learn what Jackets' fans have known all along.
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