Joe D: ‘Cut from the Same Cloth’
But while they were convinced of the basketball skill level of Monroe and Knight, the products of their two visits to the NBA draft lottery after a near-decade of title contention that produced the third championship banner in Pistons history and another near-miss, they were equally captivated by the strength of their character.
They had unique insights in both cases. Pistons vice president Scott Perry had become close to the Georgetown staff when he fully vetted former Hoyas All-American Jeff Green during the 2007 draft when Perry was a member of Sam Presti’s staff in Seattle. The Sonics, soon to become the Oklahoma City Thunder, drafted Green No. 5 after taking Kevin Durant No. 2. When Hoyas coaches told Monroe that he was made of the same fiber as Green, Perry was sold.
George David made multiple visits to Lexington last season, spending nearly a week there in one instance, with a special focus on scouting Kentucky freshman center Enes Kanter, a player NBA scouts could only see in practice sessions due to NCAA eligibility issues. While there, David couldn’t help but notice: Brandon Knight was always the first one on the court, always the last one off of it. Always. Kentucky staffers told him they’d rarely seen a player so dedicated to the game.
Those things stuck with them. When they interviewed Monroe and Knight during the Chicago draft combine, they were blown away. Perry talks about Monroe arriving in a freshly tailored suit, all business, as if he were a wide-eyed college grad interviewing for a job with a law firm or ad agency. David marveled at Knight, calling it perhaps the best interview among the hundreds he’d ever been privy to over the years.
Their availability dovetailed with Joe Dumars’ growing conviction that adding players of impeccable character to the locker room was more than a luxury but a necessity. Just as Monroe carried himself with dignity through a rookie season buffeted by turbulence around him, so too has Knight’s character shone through during a rookie season complicated by the circumstances of the lockout.
“They are cut from the same cloth,” Dumars said this week. “As I always say, just some Southern, humble, hard-working guys that are going to make you proud. They’re going to make the Pistons proud. They’re going to make Pistons fans proud. People here in Michigan are going to be proud. As these young guys grow – and I think time will tell – but I think what you’re seeing right now is going to continue with those two guys. I have no doubt about that.”
When franchises have been longtime contenders, an era the Pistons recently exited, falling into the lottery for a few years is almost inevitable. Miss with one or two of those lottery picks, though, and climbing out of the hole can devour a generation.
The Pistons are 2-for-2, by all appearances, and even if an additional step or two is required before the playoffs again become a rite of spring, they have two significant pieces in place at arguably the game’s two most critical positions.
“Greg and Brandon are cornerstones here,” Dumars said. “They’re guys you can build around. They are ultimate high-character guys, both of them. They are the ultimate competitors. Work ethic – you see each of them getting better, Greg from last year to this year, Brandon – as we sit here, this is day 38 we’ve been together – in 38 days, you’ve seen this kid improve already. Those are the type of guys we want – young, talented guys, but we want super high-character guys, guys who want to win, guys who are dedicated, tremendous work ethic like those guys.
“Those two young guys, they epitomize everything – everything – that you want with a Detroit Piston.”
We’ll have more from Joe D over the next few days talking about Monroe and Knight.