Detroit Pistons’ Eugene Omoruyi showing how he earned second 10-day deal: He’s ‘about winning’

Detroit Free Press

After snapping an 11-game losing streak with a 20-point win on Monday, Dwane Casey took a moment to name several of the key contributors.

He shouted out the veteran duo of Cory Joseph and Rodney McGruder, who combined for 40 points and nine made 3-pointers to lead the Detroit Pistons to a 117-97 home win over the Indiana Pacers. Casey also gave credit to the big man duo of James Wiseman and Jalen Duren, who each tallied double-doubles and combined for 30 points and 25 rebounds to help the Pistons dominate the paint and the glass.

But Casey made sure to name one particular player first — Eugene Omoruyi, who signed his second 10-day contract the morning of the game on Monday.

“Most of the guys, speaking of Eugene first, made winning plays,” Casey said.

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Omoruyi started for the first time since he joined the Pistons on March 3, and delivered his best performance. He finished with 17 points on 8-for-13 overall shooting, six rebounds and three steals. He stood out as one of Detroit’s most well-rounded and efficient scorers on a night the team shot well as a whole — 48% overall and 38.9% from 3. Defensively, he created turnovers and handled multiple assignments.

It’s Omoruyi’s overall energy that has enabled him to make a strong impression on both the coaching staff and teammates. He has given the Pistons a late-season jolt, and was pivotal in helping them pick up their first win since Feb. 10.

“The key is his energy,” Casey said. “That’s one thing that I love about him. He set the tone defensively and was running the floor. And his basketball IQ. He knows how to play and knows where to be on both ends of the floor whether it’s defense, offense, he’s always in a stance. It sounds trite but it’s very important. He’s down in a position to guard. He’s got quick feet, can move and he’s about winning.”

Omoruyi plays with an intuitiveness that has allowed him to quickly gel with his new teammates. On offense, he stays moving and cuts to the rim when defenders fall asleep. He’s a freight train in transition, and has been a recipient of outlet passes and also taken the ball coast-to-coast himself. Defensively, he’s aware and moves his feet quickly. His 6-foot-7 frame allows him to handle multiple positions.

The Nigerian forward was raised in Toronto and grew up playing soccer. He didn’t start playing basketball until around 10th grade, after a growth spurt. Energy and hustle are what got him onto the floor, he said. It helped him emerge as a full-time starter his third season at Rutgers, before transferring to Oregon and averaging 17.1 points his redshirt senior year in 2021 before going undrafted that summer.

“My friends all played basketball in Toronto,” Omoruyi said. “I just went and starting practicing one day. That’s how life changed.”

He signed a two-way deal with the Dallas Mavericks’ G League affiliate, the Texas Legends, in August of 2021 and inked a two-way with the Oklahoma City Thunder last summer, where he remained until he was waived at the end of February. In Detroit, he has quickly found his footing.

Omoruyi showcased good chemistry with Hayes, who dished eight of his 11 assists in the first quarter and also scored 10 points. The third-year guard assisted Omoruyi’s first three buckets — a corner 3, cutting layup and transition layup — to help him score 11 early points and become the first player to crack double digits. What’s enabled him to find his comfort level so quickly?

“Just the culture of Detroit basketball,” he said. “It’s what’s embedded in my game. That nitty, gritty, tough grit style. Also just being close to home. My mom and family being able to come down to the games has been great. It’s helped me feel it and helped me channel my energy the right way to go out there and compete.”

His family wasn’t at Monday’s game, but he had friends present. Being less than four hours away from home has helped him feel more at home in Detroit. Monday was his third time in four games he scored in double-figures. It hasn’t been two weeks, and he’s already earned a starting role on a Pistons team fighting the late-season injury bug.

The Pistons have lacked wings with Omoruyi’s two-way versatility this season, and his impact has been measurable. He’s playing hungry basketball on a team that, at 16-53 overall, has no playoff bid to compete for. Dwane Casey noted after the game that at least 60 new players enter the league every year, and at least 60 players lose their jobs in the NBA as a result.

Omoruyi is competing for someone’s job.

“He’s been doing an amazing job,” Cory Joseph said. “Whatever has been asked of him, he’s done that plus more. He’s coming in with extreme energy. He gets out there and it’s another dynamic for us, in terms of whether he switches on the ball guarding point guards and guarding bigger guys. He has that ability to guard one through five and such. He’s been great for us and he’s been doing an amazing job.”

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

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