Double Homecoming

Before New Orleans, Monroe returns to Houston's safe harbor

HOUSTON – The big homecoming happens Wednesday for Greg Monroe, when the Pistons’ rapidly emerging rookie makes his NBA debut in the city where he was born and raised, New Orleans. But before his mother Norma and sister Brittany get to hug and feed him in the Crescent City, Monroe will make a stopover in Houston for Tuesday’s game against the Rockets.

Monroe’s life took a stopover in Houston five years ago. It was Houston that offered the extended Monroe family – 16 of them in four carloads – safe harbor when Hurricane Katrina roared through the Gulf South in September 2005 when Monroe was 15 and already earmarked as one of America’s bright young talents.

They stayed in suburban Spring, north of Houston, for about a month before word filtered back, through the network of displaced New Orleaneans who would meet weekly to swap status reports as the recovery began, that the Monroe’s East Bank neighborhood was again habitable.

Monroe wasn’t in Houston long enough to make any lasting friendships, but he met a student at Georgetown, women’s basketball player Amanda Reese, who would become his girlfriend. Reese, in an amazing bit of coincidence, also grew up in New Orleans and fled to Houston to escape Katrina. She wound up staying with her mother, Relinda Lumpkins, who plans to attend Tuesday night’s Pistons-Rockets game.

The big homecoming for Monroe will come the next day when he plays before family and friends in New Orleans. His high school coach, Tyrone Mouzon, will be there, as will members from his church.

“I’m going to go and see my family before the game,” he said after Monday’s practice at the Toyota Center. “After the game, I’ll go and spend some extra time with them. My mother’s cooking, so I definitely plan on going home for a good meal. She didn’t tell me what she’s making. It’s going to be a surprise, but I’m definitely looking forward to it.”

Monroe played at home once while at Georgetown when the Hoyas opened his sophomore season at Tulane, so he doesn’t expect any extra nerves.

“We won that game,” he said. “Those were the people I’d played in front of all my life, so I wasn’t nervous. It was business. In college, every game counts, so it was just about getting an early win. It was good to start the season off the right way.”

Just three years ago, Monroe led his Helen Cox High School team to the Louisiana state title, Monroe scoring 27 points and grabbing 12 rebounds in the championship game. His old high school teammates won’t be at the game, though.

“They’re all away at college,” Monroe said. “I wish they could be there, but they are where they need to be. That’s a good thing.”

The hometown folks figure to see a good deal of Monroe, too, as he’s solidified his spot in the rotation with progressively better play after starting the season outside of the rotation.

In three December games Monroe is averaging 9.7 points and 5.7 rebounds, bumping his season averaged to 4.6 and 4.9. He’s been especially impressive as an offensive rebounder, ranking second on the team to Ben Wallace with 39. In virtually the same amount of minutes as Jason Maxiell – Monroe goes into Tuesday’s Houston game with a 355-354 edge on Maxiell, whose forte is offensive rebounding – Monroe has grabbed 12 more offensive boards.

Monroe has flashed his passing skills on occasion, even though the Pistons, mindful of putting too much on the rookie’s plate, haven’t yet made heavy use of a package that funnels offense through him to fully exploit those passing skills.

“We’ve got a lot of guys who want the offense funneled through them,” Kuester grinned. “He’s going to figure this thing out. He’ll understand, as time goes on, how he has to be very creative.”

Monroe has made remarkable strides in just his first month as a pro and shown his ability to absorb information and adapt in the way he’s now getting his shots off inside when initially he was having many of them blocked.

“He’s a very intelligent basketball player and he’s somebody that has a nose for the ball,” Kuester said. “He understands how to use his quickness, especially from 15 feet and in. He rebounds. When he’s pursuing the ball and playing with the type of effort I know he’s capable of, he’s got a lot of talent. He’s an unselfish basketball player. He loves to pass and he’s very crafty around the basket.

“There are things in his game you people haven’t seen on a consistent basis. He understands angles. He understands how to play, but you have to remind him. He’s young. He should be a junior in college right now, so he’s having a lot thrown at him.”

Sometimes coaches worry about how a young NBA player will react to the hubbub involved with playing in his hometown, but Monroe has been so even-keeled at every turn Kuester expects him to handle his homecoming with aplomb.

“Your routine is changed,” he said, “but I’m excited for him. He’s a great kid, he’s played well and he’s done a real nice job.”

  • Rick Adelman wanted to see Yao Ming go through a full practice before clearing him for his return. Yao last week said he was targeting the Pistons’ game to come back from a foot injury that’s cost him the last 15 games. But Yao didn’t practice on Monday and Houston has listed him as out for Tuesday’s game.