Gov. Gretchen Whitmer becomes Piston for a day during series of visits through state

Detroit News

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer had the ball at the top of the key and made an entry pass to the paint for an easy layup. She later passed to Saben Lee, who drove to the basket and scored.

That’s not some weird political-sports mashup. Or maybe it is.

Whitmer became a Piston for a day last week, participating in drills with a few Pistons players, assisting the coaching staff and trainers at their practice facility in midtown Detroit. It was part of her initiative to do mock internships with various companies around the state, trying to connect and bring some positivity in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think it’s important to get out and about,” Whitmer said. “This last year has been really isolating and you add COVID on top of everything else, and getting an opportunity to engage to see people in their different workplaces so that I can do everything in my role to support and to encourage growth and business of all types in Michigan is something that is a driving force for the work that I’m doing as governor.”

In her travels around the state, the time with the Pistons was unique in that she got to help tape Pistons guard Killian Hayes’ ankle, meet with the coaching staff and do some work on the court, including passing drills.

For Whitmer, it was a blast from the past, as she had aspirations of becoming a sports broadcaster when she was younger.

“I love sports and I think it’s something that I was really interested in much of my life until I got it did an internship at the Capitol and kind of fell in love with public policy, but there’s lots of analogies,” she said.

Whitmer played basketball in high school, so the movements and techniques weren’t unfamiliar to her, but getting used to playing with professionals wasn’t an easy transition. She made some baskets and did well in the drills and made at least one fan among the players.

“She did great,” Hayes said. “The ball-handling is on point, the passing is on point. Then even in the training room she helped me with my ankle, so she did a great job today.”

In getting to meet with the coaching staff, Whitmer got a behind-the-scenes look at how the planning comes together for even a small practice, and all the teamwork and personnel that goes into making the Pistons successful.

As Whitmer is the leader for the state, coach Dwane Casey fulfills much of the same role for the Pistons. Those similarities helped both sides understand how difficult their respective jobs can be.

“One thing about Governor Whitmer is the fact that she’s a team player. She relates well to everybody, even Killian being a Frenchman and everybody on the court,” Casey said. “She did a good job relating, and that’s what you know we need in our state and our country, is someone who can unite, relate and understand people.

“I think she’s the person to help us bring our state together and, in turn, our country. I just want to thank her so much for coming by here because we’re both on a mission.”

rod.beard@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard

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