INDIANAPOLIS (AP) – Ron Artest arrived at the Indiana Pacers’ rookie-free agent camp Monday pledging to be a smarter player focused on helping his team win an NBA title.

The star forward spoke to the local media for the first time since a Nov. 19 fight in Detroit resulted in a nearly season-long suspension. That night, Artest went into the stands at The Palace and attacked a Pistons fan after he was hit with a cup of beer. Artest said he wants to cut down on technical fouls and remain in control to help his team. He called his tendency to draw technicals “playing against your team.

“As you get older, you get a bit more wise,” he said. “Probably next year, you’ll see an older guy, an older player. Like everybody else, as they get older, they mature.”

Artest knows he’s being watched.

“I’m a ghetto-type guy,” he said. “I’ll be ghetto for the rest of my life. But at the same time, there’s a lot of kids who look up to me. For that, I’ll change.”

The former All-Star and NBA defensive player of the year was averaging 24.6 points and 6.4 rebounds per game in seven games when his season was cut short. Artest said it was his decision to join the team for the camp and for the Minnesota Summer League that starts Friday.

“He’s been waiting a long time to get the uniform back on, and to be a part of the team,” Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said. “This is a beginning. We feel it’s significant.”

Carlisle said Artest looks ready to play.

“He looks good,” Carlisle said. “He’s in shape. We know he’s worked hard.”

Artest said he knows he’ll face a strong effort from opponents in the summer league.

“I’m sure somebody’s going to try to make a name for themselves,” he said. “I’m going to try to make a name.”

Artest said he was proud of the way the team played in his absence. The Pacers finished 44-38 and reached the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs.

“We were a top-eight team,” he said. “We finished in the top eight after all that happened to us. The Pacers showed a lot of heart.”

He feels he owes the Pacers for what happened against the Pistons in one of the worst melees in U.S. sports history.

“They all stood by me, and I’m going to do the same for them this year,” he said. “I want to play well for my teammates, and I want to win a championship.

“It’s my job to focus on basketball,” he said. “It’s my job to put the team first.”

Artest said he thought “everybody hated” him after the Detroit incident, but was happy that Indiana fans stood by him.

“They just showed a lot of support, all types of support,” he said. “They said, Keep your head up.’ It’s a great feeling.”

Artest said he is looking forward to returning to Detroit for his first game there since the brawl.

“It’s going to be a lot of excitement,” he said. “Sometimes, you go to away games and you’ve got to find a way to get your energy up. I’m sure my energy will be up.”

One visible change in Artest was his jersey number. He donned number 15 after changing from 91 last season and 23 the season before that. He had worn number 23 in honor of Michael Jordan, then 91 in honor of former Chicago Bull Dennis Rodman.

Artest wore number 15 in high school and at St. John’s.

AP-ES-07-11-05 1748EDT

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