‘I Was Sold’
“I remember sitting in my office and going, ‘This guy could be available?’ ” Rogers recalls today after viewing the DVD compilation of Andre Drummond prepared for him by the front office. “Even though he was raw, you could see just his pure ability – his footwork, his ability to contest shots, his ability to rebound the ball out of his area. I was blown away. I was sold. It’s like ‘Jerry McGuire’ and ‘You had me at hello.’ He had me at the first blocked shot. I was sold.”
One week after the draft, the Pistons assistant who works most closely with the team’s big men got his chance at hands-on coaching with Drummond as Pistons staffers gathered in Orlando for Summer League. Nothing about his enthusiasm for Drummond was diminished by their nine days together in Florida. But Rogers knew there was serious work to be done in the two-plus months leading to October’s training camp if Drummond was going to be ready to help as a rookie.
And, further, Rogers knew that would require Drummond be willing to accept coaching. It didn’t take long to get his answer.
“When you have to coach him hard, he looks you right in the face and he accepts, but not only that, he stores it,” Rogers said. “You can see him trying to make adjustments the next time he’s on the court. The way he accepts coaching gives him a chance to be a special player because he wants to get better.”
Players talented enough to be NBA lottery picks often come to the league headstrong, convinced that if their way was good enough to account for lofty draft status there is no compelling argument to change. Rogers found Drummond accepting of suggestions at the first offering.
“When we’re in the gym and we’re doing something and I say, ‘Andre, I don’t like you doing it like this – let’s try it this way,’ he says, ‘OK, let’s try it that way,’ ” Rogers said. “For me, it makes it fun to come to work every day with all these bright ideas about how to improve his game, both offensively and defensively, because I know he’s willing to accept change to get better.”
Rogers could sense Drummond making progress through August and September last season as his conditioning level began to catch up to his athleticism and Arnie Kander worked on improving his functional strength. But it wasn’t until the few weeks before training camp began in October, as the majority of veterans arrived for pre-camp scrimmaging, that Rogers first felt certain Drummond could contribute as a rookie.
“There were moments when it was just the two of us back in the gym, no one there, we’re just working out, and I could see the improvements day by day,” he said. “But I really didn’t get excited-excited until we came back as a unit in mid-September and you watched his growth from Summer League to now. You could just see his explosiveness in getting up and down the court, going after rebounds, blocking shots, and I started to think, man, this is a carryover from what we’ve done this summer.
“That was just scratching the surface. We only had a few months, because he had some soreness in his back that limited us, but it made me really excited just seeing what we had done in the summer and how it carried over to our off-season games.”
That back soreness, muscle fatigue, is unrelated to the current stress fracture of the fifth lumbar vertebra that will sideline Drummond into the middle of March, approximately. Assuming Drummond comes back without complications, as team doctors expect, Rogers is already eager to further refine Drummond’s athleticism in the off-season ahead.
Among the items on Rogers’ checklist will be identifying one or two bread-and-butter moves with Drummond’s back to the basket.
“In order to be a back-to-the-basket player, all you need is one or two things with his size,” Rogers said. “We work on it every day, but it’s not so simple. It takes years of repetitions before you become a back-to-the-basket player. I think back to how long it took me to develop a jump hook. It took five, six years before I was comfortable enough to shoot it in a game situation. We work on it every day and he’s shown signs of throwing the jump hook in games, but he’s still not comfortable. It takes thousands and thousands of repetitions before it becomes a reaction where you catch the ball in a game and you go and do it.”
But as Rogers has come to know about Drummond, he has a way of shortening the learning curve.
“You talk about the leaps and bounds he’s made this season,” he said. “When we watch a video from teams we played early in the season and we look at him now, he just laughs. Because he can even see the progress he’s made. We’re talking about half a season and he can see the progress he’s made from the beginning of the season until now. And I look at him and tell him, there’s so much more you can achieve this season.”
Drummond, now idled for more than a week, is handling his down time as well as could be expected, Lawrence Frank said as the Pistons left for the All-Star break.
“He’s learning what it takes,” Frank said. “This is a first go-around for him. The focus, effort, energy you put in to getting better is the same work you put in to be a better player. It’s dealing with that and listening to (trainers) and the doctors in terms of the proper pace to go at in regard to his rehabilitation. He’s chomping at the bit, which can turn into a good thing. By the time we get him on the floor, he’ll be extremely excited to touch that hardwood again.”