‘Chasing the Dream’

Pistons legacy Walker Russell finally makes it to The Show

Walker Russell, Jr. was called up from the D-League to fortify the injury-depleted Piston backcourt.
Jack Arent/NBAE/Getty Images
Nothing about Walker Russell Jr.’s journey to the NBA was easy, so it figures that when he finally got his first chance it would turn into a “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” sequel to get to Detroit.

Russell was headed to Sioux Falls, S.D., with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants of the NBA Development League when his general manager called him to turn back and head for Detroit. But they’d already closed the airplane doors on his connecting flight from Chicago, so he had to continue on to Sioux Falls. The wakeup call after a fitful half-night of sleep came at 4:30 a.m., then he almost got snowed in.

But he made it to Chicago in time for the connection to Detroit and arrived at the team’s practice facility after the morning shootaround broke up. Lawrence Frank and his staff put him through a crash course and Russell – son of former Piston Walker D. Russell and nephew of former Cleveland Cavs and University of Michigan star Campy Russell – proclaimed himself ready to get thrown into the rotation for Friday’s game with Memphis.

Russell played 20 minutes and finished with three points, two assists and a rebound. He could have had a few more assists, too, but he impressed with his fearlessness and brought some life to the Pistons in a first half when they had very little otherwise.

“I thought Walker in that first half gave us energy,” Pistons coach Lawrence Frank said.

The Pistons put out the SOS because both Rodney Stuckey and Will Bynum will miss the Memphis game, at least, with injuries. That leaves Russell as the No. 1 backup to rookie Brandon Knight at point guard.

Russell went to training camp with the Pistons, so he knows enough of Frank’s offense to get by.

“We just gave him a very scaled-down version to make sure he has enough to run a team,” Frank said. “We just want him to attack, be aggressive and be relentless with his energy and effort.”

Shouldn’t be any worries on that front. Since leaving Jacksonville (Ala.) State in 2006, Russell, who played at Rochester High and has memories of his father on the Bad Boys in the 1988 NBA Finals against the Lakers at the Silverdome, Russell has spent time in the D-League and in several foreign countries, including Germany, Spain, China, Bulgaria and the Czech Republic.

Playing internationally can be much more lucrative than toiling in the D-League, but the immediacy of the D-League means a quicker path to the NBA in emergency situations.

“Chasing the dream,” Russell said in the locker room before the Memphis game. “Sometimes it’s not about the money; it’s about achieving the dream. I’m going to be honest. This is my last year in the D-League. I’ve been passing good money for about three years now. I could be making very good money. I just continued to believe in myself and finally I got the opportunity. It’s not over. This is just one step in the process of me trying to stick on a team.”

That the team is the Pistons makes it all the more dreamlike. Russell babysat for Isiah Thomas’ children, Joshua and Lauren, as well as Joe Dumars’ son, Jordan.

“It’s crazy,” he said. “Now he’s bigger than me.”

Russell said he didn’t’ answer his phone once the call to Detroit came, so he only picked up two tickets for guests. He wasn’t even sure if his father, a Knicks scout, was going to make it. But he made it, giving his son a hug after the game outside the locker room and catching up with ex-Pistons teammates, including James Edwards.

“He’s the kind of guy who won’t tell me anything and just show up,” he smiled. “I got a text from my uncle Campy, just congratulated me and said this is just part of a step. Don’t get comfortable. Just continue to work hard.”