Pistons’ G-League affiliate holds open tryouts, highlighted with Michigan natives

Detroit News

Detroit — D.J. Bakker stood on the sidelines in between the two large basketball courts inside the Pistons’ practice facility in midtown and gave direction as two groups of participants competed for an opportunity to try out for the Motor City Cruise.

The coach of the Pistons’ G-League affiliate, impressed with the competitive nature of both groups, said he noticed “a vibe” as soon as the players walked in for what was the second session of the team’s local tryouts.

“These guys are here to compete. They’re here to play, and the gym was loud,” said Bakker, who’s entering his second season as the Cruise’s head coach.

“That’s always a good sign — when guys are talking and interacting with each other and talking to coaches. That always reflects a very competitive group. We had a large number of individuals come out, but I thought the coaches did a great job.

“It was organized and structured. These guys did their job and competed. They were coachable. They were respectable and that’s all we try to enforce when they come in. They did a terrific job.”

Wednesday’s local tryout marked the second consecutive year that the Cruise has offered basketball players in the Detroit area an opportunity to showcase their skills in front of evaluators at the NBA level.

There were two sessions in the four-hour window and approximately 125-150 applicants overall, according to a team spokesman. Each participant was given either a blue or white jersey with the Cruise’s logo displayed on the front.

It’s the epitome of a hoop dream, with most of the players fully aware of how difficult it is to make it to the NBA. The players began with a light period of stretching before they were split up to practice various fast-break scenarios. All eyes were focused on both courts once 5-on-5 drills began, organized by the Cruise’s coaching staff.

Several of the Pistons’ front office brass was in attendance, including general manager Troy Weaver and Cruise president/Pistons assistant general manager Rob Murphy.

Last month, the Cruise acquired Micah Potter from the Sioux Falls Skyforce in exchange for Cheick Diallo. The team has two of the Pistons’ two-way players in Braxton Key and Buddy Boeheim, but there’s always a need for more talent, Murphy says.

“You’re always looking to fill roster needs,” Murphy told The Detroit News. “For us, we always want to continue to evaluate talent. In particular, we’re looking for a center and a wing player.

“Our roster is pretty much full, but anytime you can get some experienced guys that are looking for an opportunity — that have been working hard to put themselves in position for this chance — you look forward to seeing who’s in here and what kind of talent we can pull out of the local tryout.”

It’s not unusual for players to overthink on the court when they’re striving to make an impression. Murphy said players should focus on their strengths when they have the opportunity to play in front of NBA executives.

“A lot of times you come in these situations and you try to prove yourself, and you get too caught up in the offensive side of the game,” Murphy said. “But we look at everything, from the details of sprinting back in transition, are you in a stance? Are you sliding your feet, because the Pistons brand of basketball is defending and rebounding. That starts with the parent team — the Pistons — and it trickles down to the Motor City Cruise so we want the message to be the same for both organizations.”

A few notable attendees from Michigan participated in Wednesday’s tryout, including Ypsilanti native and former Eastern Michigan forward Ty Groce; Grand Rapids native and former Northern Illinois forward Lacey James; Kalamazoo native and former North Carolina State guard Devon Daniels; along with Detroit’s own Tarriq Jones, who played at Detroit Mercy in 2017-18 after transferring from Schoolcraft College.

“I laugh about it all the time because I’ve been knowing Ty (Groce) for nine years,” said Murphy, who coached Groce at EMU,” when you talk about the recruiting process, which started as a sophomore in high school before coaching him at Eastern Michigan. High character young man. Hard worker. Very talented. Super athletic. Has nice length. He’s a complete basketball player.”

Groce, a 6-foot-8 forward who played four years at EMU before spending the 2021-22 season at Butler, showed his athleticism in several situations. He jumped center for his team. He crashed the boards early and often. He had an emphatic block off the backboard, and last but not least, he was also able to penetrate and find easy scores at the rim while finishing through contact.

The Cruise also played host to Malik Miller, a 26-year old journeyman who’s making his rounds through workouts for several G-League programs. The 6-foot-9 center worked out for the Delaware Blue Coats before Wednesday’s tryout with the Cruise. He says his next stops include workouts with the Lakeland Magic (Orlando Magic), the Rio Grand Valley Vipers (Houston Rockets) and the Salt Lake City Stars (Utah Jazz).

“I’m just trying to get my foot in the door with the G-League and be consistent,” said Miller, who played college basketball at Fairleigh Dickinson University from 2015-18.

“Today was good. I felt great. I took a lot from the Delaware Blue Coats and the feedback I got from that and I implemented it today. A lot of it was about being consistent, running the floor. In the Delaware Blue Coats tryouts, I was shooting the ball too much, so this time, I tried to be inside the paint and under the basket.”

A few plays stand out to Miller during his workout with the Cruise. On several occasions, Miller passed the ball out of the post to his teammates, who were able to knock down wide open 3-pointers. In another instance, Miller grabbed a rebound, passed to one of his teammates, ran the floor in transition and received the ball back for a fast-break dunk.

“Everybody here, we all tie our shoes up the same,” Miller said. “At the end of the day, there’s no need to put any unneeded stress or any added pressure on yourself because you have coaches and GMs watching. You have every one here trying to compete for a spot. The best thing for you to do mentally, is control what you can control and that’s playing as hard as you can and playing to the best of your ability.”

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Miller’s journey to solidify a spot in the G-League will continue with the Lakeland Magic, but for now he appears satisfied with his performance in Detroit.

The Cruise will open the 2022-23 season on the road against the Cleveland Charge on Nov. 4. The team’s home opener is set for Nov. 7 against the Windy City Bulls.

“I love this event,” Bakker said. “It also means it’s the first basketball event of the year so the season is right around the corner. It gets our juices flowing a little bit.”

mcurtis@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @MikeACurtis2

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