Carrying a father’s legacy: From fruit fields to NBA, Pistons’ Isaiah Stewart won’t stop

Detroit Free Press

Isaiah Stewart went home this summer. A camera crew followed him. He wanted to show his roots to those who love to watch him play.

“But also wanted to show me giving back,” said Stewart, who’s about to begin his third season with the Detroit Pistons.

The giving back is a basketball camp he runs in Rochester, New York, his hometown, and when he told the team he was running the camp this summer, they asked if they could tag along and film it.

The documentary is roughly 13 minutes and will debut on air Thursday night when the Pistons play the Memphis Grizzlies in their final preseason game. Stewart hasn’t seen all of it. But he doesn’t need to.

He lived it, right?

What the piece reveals, aside from the cramped quarters that housed Stewart as a boy, and how his father made use of every square inch of their home, is the template for what makes Stewart the promising young player he is, and the player he may yet be.

A journey home reveals similar views for all of us, no? That’s the point of the journey, or the point of avoiding it. Stewart is fortunate that he loves to go home; not everyone does.

He’s also fortunate he plays in the NBA, as he will tell you, and even now, 139 games into his career, still does the occasional double-take that he is here, chasing his dream on the most exalted basketball stage.

That chase, for the moment, landed Stewart in the corner of a practice court inside the Pistons Performance Center just south of the Boulevard and just west of Woodard Avenue. As gyms go, it’s not bad, all glass and steel and light.

It is after practice and he is working on his 3-point jump shot with assistant coach, Rashard Lewis, who, like Stewart, stands about 6 feet 9, though the pole he is holding makes him feel more like 10.

At the end of the pole is a rectangular-shaped pad, like a small tackling dummy, and it’s meant to block Stewart’s line of sight as he shoots, not unlike a defender closing out. Again and again, Stewart takes a pass, sets his feet, and rises above the mock close-out.

Swish. Swish. Swish. In-and-out. Swish.

On it goes, from the corner, from the wing, from the top of the key, back down to the corner, a spot of hardwood where his head coach, Dwane Casey, wants him to master, because the offensive sets will deposit him there.

Corner 3s are the most efficient 3s in basketball. For a big man trying to expand his game, the spot is even more tantalizing, as the big men guarding him will want to instinctually cheat toward the lane when a teammate drives to the rim.

Casey envisions Stewart taking 3s at the top of the key, too, either in pick-and-pop sets or after dribble handoffs. And if he makes enough of them, it’ll change how defenses react to everyone else on the team.

“Those are the sweet spots,” Casey said.

Master those sweet spots and, well, the math – and space – changes. That’s the value of a stretch big man.

“It’s coming along,” Casey said. “Though we don’t want to put too much pressure on him.”

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That this is a consideration for a player drafted as a rebounder and post defender says a lot about Stewart’s drive to expand his bag. Watch the mini documentary and it’s not surprising.

For a player who needs a certain amount of natural hand-eye coordination and feel to become a good shooter, the shooting won’t come without reps. Lots of em’. Like, somewhere between 700-1,000 a day.

Shots that Stewart and his developmental team charted all summer. Charts that slowly revealed an uptick, and eventually revealed relentlessness.

He gets that from his father, who left Jamaica for Florida and earned his keep picking oranges and watermelons, and then picked apples as he made his way north, settling in upstate New York, where he found his way into construction.

That was a break from the back-bending work in the fields and among the fruit trees, but not the kind of break Stewart wanted his for father. The kind of break he dreamt he could give him when he was working in the gyms around Rochester, climbing his way up the recruiting rankings, sifting through an onslaught of recruiting letters, determined to show coaches and, ultimately, NBA scouts, that while his work ethic near the rim might have been what set him apart, his work ethic would also take him to new places on the court.

Like the corner.

Or the top of the key.

Or the wings, where he showed last season he could switch onto guards and wings and swallow them up for a moment.

“My favorite part of the game,” he says. “Because I have something to prove.”

That’s Rochester. That’s home. That’s his father. That’s the field work and the construction work and the days that begin at sunrise.

That’s Stewart, set to begin another season, determined to translate the summer work into winter success, pushing, expanding, proud that he helped his father retire, bursting to keep carrying on his legacy.

One shot, one switch, 10 rebounds at a time.

Contact Shawn Windsor: 313-222-6487 or swindsor@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @shawnwindsor.

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