Coach Wallace

Rasheed takes the plunge, puts his knowledge to work on Pistons bench

Rasheed Wallace
Former Piston Rasheed Wallace is now part of the team's coaching staff.
Allen Einstein (NBAE/Getty)
ORLANDO – Not long after Joe Dumars decided on Maurice Cheeks to coach the Pistons, Cheeks walked up the stairs from his office to Joe D’s and told him he had a crazy idea. What about adding Rasheed Wallace to the staff?

When Cheeks got around to broaching the subject with Wallace, a week after his hiring, here’s the response he got: “What took you so long to ask?”

NBA assistant coaches burn the candle at both ends, in the building at 8 o’clock the morning after a night game to prepare for that day’s practice, staying late to work with players on individual skills or to pore over videotape of the next opponent. Basketball knowledge oozes from Rasheed Wallace’s pores and teammates for years have extolled his knack for communicating that know-how in digestible bites.

But unless he was ready to commit to the 14-hour, 7-day grind, none of that would matter. It wasn’t a question in Wallace’s mind if he could make the player-to-coach transition, it was a question of did he want it?

“I know I can,” he said after sitting on the bench as the Pistons lost 93-63 to Boston on the second day of Summer League play. “I know that I have the skill set to be able to help a lot of younger players out, but on the other hand, do I want to do it or do I want that retirement freedom to be able to do things with my kids?”

What tipped the scales for him was a harmonic convergence: Cheeks, a coach he respected from their time in Portland; Dumars, the executive who brought him to Detroit to win a championship; and his children’s presence in Detroit, where they have continued to live.

“It was a blessing in disguise,” he said. “My kids are still back in Detroit and I have the best of both now. I’ll be able to do what I want to do and that’s be able to teach young guys how to play basketball the right way and still be with my kids.”

The icing is the presence of Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, two young big men with vastly different skill sets but tantalizing potential.

“That’s awesome,” Wallace said of the promise they represent. “I’m going to do what I can to have those guys prepared for the season and to make them better ballplayers and better people throughout life. Basketball is just a quarter of our lives for those that play it and we have the rest of our lives after that, so just try to give my life experiences to them.”

He’ll find willing students. Monroe and Drummond have been consistently praised by the number of coaches who’ve had hands-on experience with one or both – from John Kuester to Lawrence Frank to the assistant who worked with both last year, Roy Rogers – for their coachability. Wallace ran with the Pistons informally last September at the team’s practice facility before training camp – and before Wallace committed to returning to the NBA with the Knicks – and, even then, he was full of encouragement and advice for all, but especially Drummond.

“I’m excited to have Rasheed as a coach, very excited,” said Drummond, who sat out Monday’s game but said he’d be in the lineup Tuesday. “Great guy, a lot of knowledge and fun to be with.”

Drummond already has gotten in a few workouts with Wallace back in Auburn Hills before the Pistons broke for Orlando and said his coaching style was “a lot different, pushing me to play harder and doing different things I’m not used to doing. I’m really glad I have him. He sees the game in a whole different light. He just talks to me and lets me know what I can do better and how to be a better leader to some of the younger guys on my team.”

“He had a lot of success in this league,” Monroe said. “He can definitely teach you how to play the game. That’s something I’m excited about. I know I can learn a lot from him and I’m ready to get started working with him. … He’s a guy I watched growing up. When I was growing up, he was in his prime and arguably one of the best big men in the league. He has the experience to go along with the knowledge and that’s going to help us out.”

The fact Monroe and Drummond have vivid impressions of Wallace as an All-Star and NBA champion, Wallace understands, is something he can use to his advantage.

“I think it helps with me being a part of their generation with them watching me when they were coming up as young ballplayers,” he said. “That generation gap isn’t as large as it would be if I retired in the early ’90s and trying to come back into coaching now. I’ve seen a lot of older coaches get disrespected like that. It works both ways. I’ve got to respect Dre and the things he does and same thing with Greg.”

Wallace evolved as an NBA player, going from one who rarely shot from beyond 15 feet to one of the league’s best 3-point shooting big men. Monroe is closer to Wallace in style than Drummond is for his more varied offensive game, but Wallace isn’t content to let Drummond become pigeon-holed as a defensive specialist. Playing against them last year, he believes, gives him some insight into helping them grow.

“As an opponent, I looked at them differently: How can I exploit their weaknesses,” he said. “But now as a coach, it’s like, OK, well, this is what I saw, so let’s go ahead and try to strengthen this up and do that and become a complete player as opposed to just a scorer or just a shot-blocker or just a guy that sets screens or rebounds. No, become a complete player. Play on both sides of the ball.”

And that will entail work on Drummond’s back-to-the-basket repertoire.

“We’re going to get on that,” he said. “That’s why Mo brought me on. He’s still young, he’s still raw, he’s still depending on his athleticism, which a lot of 19-year-olds do. But the thing that will get Dre over is he’s not one of those ‘I know’ guys. Dre, he’s a sponge. He sucks it up. He might not like it, but he’s not going to complain about it. He might not like it, but he still does it.”

And if Wallace – credited with helping young teammates like Jermaine O’Neal and Zach Randolph over the years – can convey his wealth of knowledge as well as Mo Cheeks and Joe Dumars believe he will, Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond will be doing what they do that much better next season and beyond.