Why the Detroit Pistons’ rookies are uniquely qualified to adjust to NBA life

Detroit Free Press

Omari Sankofa II
| Detroit Free Press

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On Wednesday, exactly a week after the NBA draft, the Detroit Pistons introduced their four rookies — Killian Hayes, Isaiah Stewart, Saddiq Bey and Saben Lee — alongside general manager Troy Weaver and head coach Dwane Casey via a Zoom conference, as has been the norm this year. 

Here are three quick takeaways from the teleconference. 

Experience matters

The Pistons have precious little time to acclimate to each other before the season tips off on Dec. 22. With only four players returning from last season, it means head coach Dwane Casey and his staff will have their work cut out for them to get everyone up to speed with less than a month to prepare. 

That’s especially true for Detroit’s four rookies, who are coming into the season without a summer league and normal offseason to adapt to the NBA. But three of the rookies — Hayes, Bey and Lee — have parents who played high-level basketball. All three said that they’ll be leaning on their parents to help guide them through the process. 

Hayes grew up surrounded by professional basketball players thanks to his dad, DeRon, who was a standout at Penn State from 1989-93 before playing overseas in France. Killian was born in Lakeland, Florida, but moved to France as a baby when his dad began playing for LNB Pro A, the top men’s professional basketball league in France. 

[ Why Killian Hayes has a similar background to Kobe Bryant ]

“My dad, he’s been here from the start,” Hayes said. “I remember when I was younger, just going to his home games, all of his practices. So I got to learn at a young age what being a professional was. And having him there each and every step was really helpful. Definitely a blessing having a father that played professionally.” 

Lee’s dad is former running back Amp Lee, who was drafted in the second round of the 1992 NFL draft and played in the league for nine seasons. It’s a different sport, but the advice transcends their respective sports. 

“Like Killian said, it’s definitely a blessing to have a dad who played professionally,” Lee said. “My dad’s been able to give me a lot of words of wisdom, and just how to approach things professionally and the business side of things. Just keeping basketball the main thing and focusing on that.” 

Bey was introduced to sports through his mom, Drewanna, who played college basketball for Charlotte. He credits her for pushing him and helping him realize his dream of making the NBA.

“My mom, she played in college, so it’s one of those things where she wouldn’t let me go easy for any games,” Bey said. “She was always on me since I was a little kid, so it was one of those things where either she told me to never be satisfied and always get better, no matter what. It’s a blessing for her to have that influence on my life.”

French connection

One of the many things about Hayes that appealed to Pistons fans was his French background. He shares a home country with the Pistons’ 2019 first-round pick, Sekou Doumbouya, and the two players are also friends. 

That Detroit (or Détroit, using the French spelling) was settled by French missionaries and means “strait” in French was the icing on top. Casey is aware of the French connection between Hayes, Doumbouya and the city. It also might’ve given the Pistons an advantage with Hayes, who wanted to be drafted by the Pistons.

“I learned something new to this recruiting process, our scouting process, about our French connection, Casey said. “I think that put us in a good light with Killian and his family.” 

The early bird …

The Pistons took Hayes with the seventh overall pick with several players who some projected to be better prospects — Deni Avdija, Obi Toppin and Tyrese Haliburton — still available. 

Weaver was hired by the Pistons in June, but he was a huge fan of Hayes long before then. He started watching Hayes play as a 16-year-old in the French league and got to watch him in person for the first time earlier this year before the pandemic hit.  

“I was fortunate to do my work early,” Weaver said. “Good scouts do their work early. So I was fortunate and blessed to see him this year. But been watching him play since he was 16. He wasn’t new to me or to the draft board. Very, very excited about Killian coming here to Detroit.” 

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa.

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