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Tyrese Haliburton's journey from kid with a dream to All-Star starter


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INDIANAPOLIS — Tyrese Haliburton was late for practice. A senior teammate he relied on to pick him up for morning sessions at Oshkosh North High had overslept, which meant the skinny freshman on the varsity squad had essentially overslept, too.

John Haliburton was home, reminded his son there was nothing he could do at that moment about the clock and told him he’d simply have to face the consequences. Then they hopped in the car for the short, nervous ride to school.

Consequences? Oh yeah. Frank Schade, the Spartans coach, was old-school. He was a local legend, a kid from Wausau, Wis., who was drafted in the fourth round in 1972 by Kansas City-Omaha and played in nine NBA games as a Kings rookie. By the time Haliburton showed up late, Schade had coached Oshkosh North for 29 years. He was demanding, meticulous and a stickler about “team.”

The morning upshot was simple: Haliburton and his cohort were sent home. The afternoon penalty was worse: Both players were isolated from the others and told to sit in chairs on the court. Then their teammates were made to run sprints, down and back. Down and back. Again.

“All Ty could do was sit there and cry, because he was so disappointed,” his father, John, told NBA.com. “But that was a learning process, not a punishment.”

Said Haliburton in an interview this week: “Coach told me that day I was the worst freshman he ever coached. That was actually my senior [yearbook] quote, ‘You’re the worst freshman I’ve ever had on varsity.’”

The Indiana Pacers guard can laugh now, now that he’s an NBA All-Star for the second time, a starter in the Eastern Conference backcourt, set to play on his home court at Gainbridge Fieldhouse Sunday evening (8 ET, TNT).

But, Haliburton said, “that was terrifying that day.”

NBA dreams from the start

Pacers star Tyrese Haliburton returns to his roots in the latest episode of 'Pass the Rock.'

His dream could have died at that practice. Instead, that dream turned into Haliburton’s Plan A, with no Plan B whatsoever.

A guidance counselor would have gotten fired for advising him to go all in on the career path he latched onto for himself. It was going to be basketball or bust for Haliburton, and the latter in such circumstances is the heavy favorite.

“It’s really crazy,” Haliburton said. “I take a lot of my days to assess where I am and where I’m headed, and how crazy it is, especially where I come from. I guess that it’s, I’m a big dreamer. My dad has always preached to me to dream big and have faith in what you wanted to do.

“Some people tried to shoot it down. But I never let that get to me. I felt like it was possible. If I could get into college basketball, we’d see what happened. Within two years I had the opportunity to go into the NBA.”

For his father, looking back brings chills in a way looking forward never stirred doubts.

“You made my inner soul jump asking that,” John said. “When you say you want to be something and you believe you can be it with the help of God, it’s possible to happen. A lot of people talk about ‘God, God, God.’ That’s one thing. But the believing part is the ultimate victory. His word is still real.”

John Haliburton has nurtured the dream from the start. He and his wife Brenda have been the base, the comfort zone from which Tyrese could thrive. Tyrese was raised with two older brothers from Brenda’s prior marriage and a younger brother from this one.

“They were everything,” Haliburton said. “My mom never missed a game of mine growing up, like ever. Every AAU tournament, every everything, she was always there.

“My parents both worked to make sure me and my brothers could do whatever we wanted. We were a middle-class family, not any more money than people around. But if I wanted this game, these shoes, that shirt, whatever, I got it. That just tells you how much they cared about us getting where we wanted.”

Said John: “When Tyrese made that decision, ‘I’m gonna be an NBA player’ — when he was real little I got him a shirt that said ‘NBA Player’ — he believed that. He never thought about anything else. In fact, we never talked about anything else [as a career choice].”

They probably should have. Oshkosh is not exactly a hoops hotbed in a state not particularly distinguished in its talent production. A total of 74 players have reached the NBA from the state, according to Basketball Reference, with most of those coming from the Milwaukee area. When Haliburton was added to the East squad last year, he became the first NBA All-Star from what generally is considered Wisconsin’s northeast region.

Oshkosh is a city of about 66,000 residents, about 83% of them white. It sits 88 miles northwest of Milwaukee and about 53 southwest of Green Bay.

“It is a beautiful city,” John said. “Find yourself a nice home, have yourself some kids and all you’ve got to do is concentrate on taking care of those kids.”

Oshkosh, Wisconsin to SLAM Magazine. Look at God!! Grateful for the opportunity @SLAMonline 💛 https://t.co/Ge5fWzRr2D

— Tyrese Haliburton (@TyHaliburton22) July 20, 2023

John coached a girls team at a middle school, and routinely took his “baby boy” to practice.

“He was too young to play, but he wouldn’t let me tie my shoes,” John said. “I couldn’t go without him. I’m talkin’ 3 years old. He would take a girls’ ball and dribble that thing.

“I would be working with some of the girls and the others would be watching Tyrese. Or some of the other parents would come just to babysit. I never asked! They were drawn to Ty — he had that personality as a little kid.”

Haliburton also grew up attending his brothers’ games. Eventually, he got involved in youth leagues and AAU ball — the Blizzard, then the Warriors, and eventually Wisconsin United, playing with kids such as Tyler Herro — on his way to high school. He always was one of the taller kids, so Haliburton typically played up a level. His height also had him playing big — a 4 in third grade, a 5 in fourth — until one coach let him try running the point. That’s where he stuck.

Haliburton has been polishing his point guard skills ever since. On the court and off.

“I view that as a big responsibility,” he said. “I feel like I have the power to help other guys succeed because I have the ball. Empower him to make shots, empower him to move on from mistakes. But I also feel like I have the power to take that away if I’m letting my emotions get the best of me or I’m frustrated. For me, the biggest thing was learning how to lead the right way.”

There was another practice from which Haliburton got tossed, deeper into his Spartans run, when Schade decided his sour mood made him useless to the team.

“He didn’t understand how infectious his energy was,” said Brad Weber, who took over as Oshkosh North’s coach when Schade retired before Haliburton’s senior year. “We would talk to him about how ‘You can’t get down, you can’t get down.’ And ‘If you can’t stay positive, you hurt us too much.’

“Practice ends, I come to the office, there’s Tyrese. He thought he got kicked off the team.”

As a junior, Haliburton led the Spartans through an undefeated season in the Fox Valley Association Conference until they “choked” — his word — in the state’s Elite 8. A year later, he scored 23 of his 30 points in the second half of the championship game against Brookfield East to win the Division 1 state tournament.

“The separators for him are two things: A great work ethic and his personality,” said Weber, who taught Haliburton’s English classes for four years in addition to coaching him. “He’s a great creator, he has great vision. But his ability to unlock everybody else on his team is what makes him special.

“When you know you’re going to play with somebody who wants you to succeed, that’s pretty rare.”

‘First thing that catches you is his spirit’

Haliburton — a Leap Year baby who turns 24 on Feb. 29 — can joke now that he was a “three-star recruit” as a senior, which kept him on lesser stages, under lights not so bright, attracting modest interest from college recruiters.

Forget Wisconsin. That Big Ten program has whiffed on others of more repute. So Haliburton was an afterthought when the Badgers thought Herro was headed their way (he chose Kentucky).

Haliburton’s idea was to head to Northern Iowa, where he could team up with A.J. Green — an AAU friend now playing with the Milwaukee Bucks — to run roughshod in the Missouri Valley Conference. But an Iowa State assistant named Neill Berry saw Haliburton at a tournament in Las Vegas and was ready to offer him a scholarship on the spot. Soon, head coach Steve Prohm visited Oshkosh to close the deal.

“The first thing that catches you is his spirit,” said Prohm, now at Murray State. “Then he’s got size, an unbelievable skill set and a high IQ. And he plays with an edge to him now. You put all that together and the world’s seeing Tyrese Haliburton at the highest level, impacting the Pacers, impacting the NBA.

“He’s an NBA All-Star but he can also be the governor of Wisconsin. He can walk into any room and have a presence. He always has a smile and a great humility.”

Haliburton started his second game as a freshman, taking over when Lindell Wigginton got hurt. He was a pass-first guard who was encouraged by Prohm’s staff to develop his offense too.

As a freshman, Haliburton helped the Cyclones go 23-12, averaging 6.8 points and 3.6 assists in 33 minutes before their NCAA first-round loss to Ohio State. In 2019-20, a wrist injury cut short his season to 22 games. He averaged 15.2 ppg and 6.5 apg and was ready to move on.

“I don’t even think we had a discussion,” Prohm said. “I knew he was gone, he knew he was gone. If he ever asked me, I would have told him he needed to leave. He was going to be a lottery pick.”

Realizing the dream, from Sacramento to Indiana

Tyrese Haliburton and coach Rick Carlisle have bonded well together on the Pacers.

Haliburton shed much of his underdog status when he arrived in Sacramento as the No. 12 pick. Still, he widely was considered the sleeper from that Class of 2020 and wound up third in Kia Rookie of the Year voting after he posted 13 ppg, 5.3 apg and hit 41% of his 3-pointers in 2020-21.

The only trouble? The Kings already had a dynamic point guard in De’Aaron Fox. Lightning quick, Fox had been the No. 5 pick in 2017, finished third in Kia Most Improved Player voting in 2018-19 and was a potent scorer with the rookie on board.

In 2021-22, the Kings were sputtering along at 20-35 when they went for help up front. They packaged Haliburton and Buddy Hield for Domantas Sabonis in a six-player deal. The Pacers’ new point guard said he was shocked to get traded, but his family openly cheered the idea of having him closer to home.

Haliburton, of course, was not out of the woods yet. There was the new challenge of taking his turn as the next point guard alongside newly-named Indiana coach Rick Carlisle.

One of the NBA’s most successful coaches, with a 2011 championship in Dallas, Carlisle had a penchant and talent for calling plays, necessitating a slower pace than guards such as Jason Kidd and Rajon Rondo preferred. Haliburton was aware of it and said Rondo, in a game soon after the deal, told him “Good luck.”

But it turns out, Carlisle’s approach has evolved. He reportedly wanted the Mavericks to draft Haliburton in 2020, hoping to move up high enough to land him. When the two got together in Indiana in February 2022, the veteran coach was ready to flex a different style.

“When I got here, me and Carlisle hit it off right away,” Haliburton said. “He has his history with other point guards, but I didn’t look at that. I was on a new team and I thought I’d see how it goes.

“We weren’t winning that year, so he kind of let me learn a lot. It’s been nothing but good so far.”

Haliburton has facilitated things by taking care of the ball like few others. He has had seven games this season with 10 or more assists and no turnovers, four more with only one. His assists-to-turnovers ratio in 2023-24 is 4.85 and, for his career, a Hall of Fame-worthy 3.77. John Stockton’s career mark is 3.72. Magic Johnson? He’s 2.89.

“Tyrese has been great,” Carlisle said after the Pacers’ In-Season Tournament semifinal victory over Milwaukee. “The things that he learns as this thing goes along, he immediately puts them into gear, into use.”

At 30-25 heading to Toronto Wednesday night, the Pacers have flipped their 25-30 record after 55 games last season. They are fighting for a playoff berth, with a Play-In Tournament slot all but assured compared to their 35-47 finish last spring.

“Tyrese is just one of those transcendent players that with him on the court, anything is possible,” Carlisle said.

Hard work remains the foundation

Life is good. Haliburton is getting attention in Indiana, where he’ll be at the center of the All-Star swirl this weekend both as a starter Sunday and as a Starry 3-point contestant Saturday night.

The attention has gone national too, on the fringe of some Most Valuable Player discussions. He is featured on the second season of “Pass The Rock,” and his impressive display of jersey swaps at this early stage of his career shows his Wisconsin roots. Then there are the must-see highlights and the massive “super-max” contract extension that kicks in next season.


Tyrese Haliburton goes off the backboard to himself and hits Pascal Siakam for three 🤯 pic.twitter.com/NSEp48PVFX

— Indiana Pacers (@Pacers) February 11, 2024

As an All-Star from the host market, Haliburton — per the event’s tradition — has a head start toward the Kobe Bryant MVP trophy on Sunday. And he finally feels fully healed from the scary hamstring injury suffered against Boston on Jan. 8. That gutted the month for him, costing him 10 of 11 games.

Believing this good fortune is not of his doing alone, Haliburton has embraced his family’s faith more than ever.

“My faith has grown a lot over the last year or two,” he said. “Growing up we didn’t go to church a lot, but we understood God’s place in our lives. Now that I’m an adult I guess — I own a house now and live on my own — I go to church on Sunday every chance I can. I go to chapel before games.”

Invariably, kids will ask him for his advice on chasing their dreams. He’s careful not to tell them to skip a Plan B.

“I tell them there’s no secret recipe other than working hard,” Haliburton said. “I wish there was a magic potion you could drink. It doesn’t work that way. You have to keep working, not listen to negativity, and let the praise go in one ear and out the other.

“Trust the work you put in, and anything is possible.”

* * *

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on X.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Warner Bros. Discovery.

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