Why Detroit Pistons are confident ‘high-character’ rookies will set strong foundation

Detroit Free Press

Omari Sankofa II
| Detroit Free Press

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Since his first news conference, Troy Weaver has spoken of wanting to restore the Detroit Pistons as a championship contender. He wants the organization to establish a defense-first, competitive mindset.

He also wants to bring in high-character players who’ll represent the franchise proudly — players that fans can identify with, and evoke the hard-working brand the Bad Boy and Goin’ To Work Pistons shared. 

“I said coming in, this was going to be a restoring of two iterations of the great Pistons teams,” Weaver said after last week’s draft. “That was their mentality. They were aggressive, they were on the attack and we want to follow suit. That’s the mantra, and we’ll hopefully continue to be aggressive.”

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The Pistons were aggressive in drafting players who checked those boxes, swinging multiple trades to acquire additional draft picks. They entered last week with one pick, and exited the draft with four players — Killian Hayes, Isaiah Stewart, Saddiq Bey and Saben Lee. All four players were high on Detroit’s draft board, and the organization was very happy to be able to draft them. 

On Wednesday, the Pistons finally introduced the four players. And instead of talking about their games, Weaver and head coach Dwane Casey mostly talked about who they are as people, and how they fit what the organization is attempting to build in Weaver’s first year as GM

There’s no question the 2020 draft will help set the tone of the next decade of Pistons basketball. Most rebuilds succeed and fail based on how well teams draft. The Pistons haven’t won a playoff game since 2008 largely because they’ve missed on too many first-round picks. So much is riding on last week’s draft, as the Pistons need their rookies to develop. 

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They made a good first impression Wednesday. Weaver and Casey are confident they’ll become foundational pieces who can lead the franchise to the next level.

“These four young men embody everything we want for the Pistons going forward,” Weaver said. “Selfless, competitive-natured team guys, talented, but more importantly, great humans. It’s a certain DNA that we wanted to bring in the building, and these four young men bring it. We’re extremely excited about them joining the Pistons family and looking for great things to come.” 

“We were impressed, one, with their character, and basketball ability is given,” Casey added. “But most importantly, Troy, when he came in, and myself and Tom (Gores), wanted to really go after high-character men. And all four of these men are super high-character guys, smart as a whip, and we’re excited about this season and growing and developing their skill set, and getting us to restoring our program back to that championship level. And it’s not easy for young men to come in and put their foot in the water of the NBA and learn and make mistakes and grow from it. But we’re excited, I’m excited about teaching, and our coaching staff is excited about teaching and working  with these young men each and every day.” 

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Each rookie enters the franchise with a good reputation. Hayes was one of the best point guard prospects in the draft, and excelled playing professionally in France and Germany as a teenager. His dad, DeRon, played college basketball at Penn State and professionally in France. 

Hayes wanted to be a Piston. He’s friends with Sekou Doumbouya, Detroit’s 2019 first-round pick. Perhaps more than any other player on the roster, the future of the organization is tied to Hayes’ success.

“I’m really excited to be a Piston,” Hayes said. “My dream was always to make it to the NBA and I’m really excited to come in with Detroit. When I had the meetings with coach Casey and Troy, just fell right in. From the beginning, I wanted to go there, so during the draft I was just praying I could end up in Detroit, and it happened. I’m just really excited to be here.” 

Bey emerged as one of the best forwards in college basketball last season, and played for Villanova — a program known for producing high-IQ, defensive-minded wings. The Pistons drafted him 19th overall, and many analysts consider him to be one of the steals in the draft. 

“I gotta thank Troy Weaver and coach Casey for giving me the opportunity, because I just want to work as hard as possible and continue with my work ethic,” Bey said. “It means a lot to be able to call Detroit my new home and be a part of the Pistons family. I try to be as loyal as possible and those guys believe in me, so I want to make them proud.” 

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Stewart was a consensus five-star recruit and had a strong freshman season for Washingtonr. He had one of the highest motors of any player in the draft, and his work ethic, footwork and overall energy appealed to the Pistons. 

“What it means to me to be here in Detroit, it means a lot,” Stewart said. “Words can’t explain. Coach Casey, Troy, just the tough mindset they have for us young group, and overall the whole organization, I was very excited when I heard my name called, knowing I was going to come here. It means a lot, and I just can’t wait to get to work.” 

Finally, Saben Lee was a three-year starter for Vanderbilt and one of the better athletes in the draft. The Pistons held him in high regard, and he was already familiar with the franchise, thanks to a connection with his college head coach, former Pistons forward Jerry Stackhouse. 

“I’m so thankful and grateful to be a part of the Pistons organization,” Lee said. “Grateful is an understatement. I’m just excited to get to work and be out there on the court with these other four guys on the team and just make the city of Detroit proud.”

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.

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