Jonas Ready to Go

Crowded frontcourt picture doesn’t dim Jerebko’s enthusiasm for new season

Jonas Jerebko
Power forward got awfully crowded this summer for the Pistons. It’s Greg Monroe’s new home and he goes into training camp entrenched as the starter. When he moves to center in relief of Andre Drummond, Maurice Cheeks likely will move Josh Smith into the position where he’s spent the bulk of his nine years in Atlanta.

The Pistons also drafted a high-upside rookie, Tony Mitchell, with the 37th pick last June, and return Charlie Villanueva, the dictionary definition of a “stretch four,” an increasingly coveted NBA commodity.

You might expect all of that to trouble Jonas Jerebko. Guess again.

“I’m just happy with the changes, good changes,” he said this week, feet thrust in ice water after finishing up his first workout with Arnie Kander since returning from Sweden and the recently completed EuroBasket competion in Slovenia. As he spoke, his teammates – many of them first-time Pistons – played an up-tempo five-on-five game a few feet away.

“I’m just happy with the new team. It’s going to be fun to start playing with everybody and get our game plan and our plays and start learning everything, learning all my new teammates. I’ve been looking forward to this for a while. It was fun being back in Europe, but in the back of your head you always have the season in mind. It’s going to be fun.”

The 2012-13 season tested Jerebko mentally and emotionally. He opened as the backup power forward behind Jason Maxiell, but after a 3-10 start Lawrence Frank – looking to shake things up – went to Charlie Villanueva in that role. Not long after that, a second unit that included the shooting Villanueva and Austin Daye provided surrounding the Andre Drummond-Will Bynum pick-and-roll tandem produced the Pistons’ best stretch of basketball of the season.

Over a 29-game stretch that spanned from late November to late January, Jerebko played a token six minutes in one game. When Daye and Tayshaun Prince were shipped to Memphis for Jose Calderon, the door to Jerebko’s return to the rotation was at least ajar. Over the season’s final six weeks, and especially the last few, the old Jerebko – the rookie who so endeared himself to his coaches, teammates and fans alike for his breakneck style and infectious hustle – re-emerged.

“It was a roller-coaster season,” he said, “but I ended the season feeling good about my game and how I played – how I acted, let’s put it that way. I’m happy, when I look back – not happy about everything that went on, but happy with the way I acted. I tried to stay professional and work hard and good things will come. I feel like I ended the season on a good note and now we’ve got all these changes here and I’m just excited.”

When Jerebko joined the Pistons four years ago, they were a severely undersized team and not particulary athletic, either. He thinks what he does best will be more complementary of this team, which now features both size and athleticism across the board.

“We’ve got a better team, a bigger team,” he said. “We can play in different ways. We still want to play fast, but we’ve got a great group of guys. I think the mix will be very good. It’s going to be fun to see in training camp and the season coming up.

“That’s something Coach is going to have to put together, but I’m just going to keep playing my game. I know what I can do and I know I can help this team win games. I’m excited to start.”

Jerebko spent the early summer in Detroit, then joined his national team for a few practices in Sweden and four tune-up games in Poland and Germany before playing five games in six days in Slovenia during EuroBasket competition. The Swedes beat the Russians and gave strong Italy and Turkey teams stiff runs before losing. His immediate family came from Sweden and even an uncle from Buffalo, he said, and they enjoyed their time in Slovenia.

“I think everyone should be happy,” he said. “We beat Russia. We could have done a better job against Turkey, but they’re still Turkey if you look at their roster. We should’ve beaten Italy the last game and they were undefeated. I’m very happy with what we did. It was a good experience.”

And also a good way to roll into a training camp that should be long on competition for minutes.

“I got there not having played five on five for the whole summer and I walked right into that and now I feel like I’m ready to play,” he said. “It’s going to be fun to get started with all these guys. I’ve been looking forward to that for a while. I got back from Europe yesterday, woke up at 3 in the morning and got here to work with Arnie. He said no playing, but I’m definitely going to play a few games before training camp starts. I’m good – I feel great.”