Pistons new training center’s mission: make each area ‘the best it can be’

DETROIT – When Pat Garrity went through the NBA draft process in the spring of 1998, one of his individual workouts came for the Pistons. Their current practice facility, located on the northwest corner of the grounds that house The Palace of Auburn Hills, still had a shiny, new look to it then – and ample space for every need of an NBA team of its era.

“I was like, ‘Wow! This is what the NBA has? This is amazing,” Garrity, now Pistons associate general manager, grins today.

It’s been a perfectly functional home for a few generations of Pistons basketball, the place where the 2004 NBA champions that would go to six consecutive Eastern Conference finals bled and sweat. But as technology has exploded and staff sizes multiplied to capture and take best advantage of the information now available, it became evident the Pistons needed a new home.

The planning stages began two years ago, well before Pistons owner Tom Gores charged Arn Tellem with exploring every avenue to make the move of the Pistons back to their Detroit roots possible. They looked at expanding the current facility or starting anew on another site on The Palace grounds.

But when the Pistons announced last November that they would join the Red Wings under Little Caesars Arena’s roof, the project came into focus and land was scouted for what would become the Henry Ford-Detroit Pistons Performance Center, which held its groundbreaking ceremony at the site off of Amsterdam Street in the New Center area on Monday.

When completed in summer 2019, it will provide not only the most advanced training facility for Stan Van Gundy’s basketball team but a home to the Pistons 200-plus employees on both the basketball and business sides of the organization. More than that, it will include a sports medicine, treatment and rehabilitation facility managed by Henry Ford Health System and offer public access for team-hosted events and community functions.

General manager Jeff Bower’s mission was to make certain Pistons players had the best resources at hand to develop their skills to the fullest. His point men on the project were Garrity and Andrew Loomis, chief of staff. They each visited several other team practice centers, Garrity mainly touring recently built NBA facilities and Loomis exploring what’s being done in college sports – both football and basketball – where the recruiting arms race has sparked a wave of innovative development.

One of the most noticeable differences of the new facility will be the playing surface available. The current spot has one regulation NBA court. The newer ones around the NBA all have two courts. The new Pistons center will have 2½ courts, Garrity said.

“One court will extend so you’ll have an additional half court. The idea was to be able to have five half-courts working at the same time.”

Garrity toured training centers built recently for the Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers, Chicago Bulls, Milwaukee Bucks, Cleveland Cavaliers and Orlando Magic. Loomis visited the Los Angeles Lakers’ new facility as it was under development, while also visiting college facilities at Oregon, Utah, Alabama and Texas A&M. They took ideas from several places, Garrity said.

“Without naming names, there was one where in the areas where the played dined, the interaction between the chef and players was really important. The layout of the weight room – large, open spaces. The term modular is thrown around, so nothing’s permament, can be easily fixed and move around with a premium on space. From football, the idea of having individual breakout rooms for guys to break out by position, watch film and get instruction.”

There were features in college facilities, designed with impressing recruits and fixing the attention of young men, that wouldn’t make sense for an NBA team. The guiding principle was to keep it simple but make it the best.

“Make it a space just 100 percent focused on players,” Garrity said. “Focused more from a professional standpoint, having everything for them to accomplish their goals rather than a place for them to hang out. Our goal was to have it geared toward every space being able to help them develop as players.”

They’ll pull the best ideas from their exploratory treks together and add to them with things specifically tailored to their needs.

“There are tweaks you can think of to make their experience the best it can possibly be,” Garrity said. “But the basics are the same. What do they do when they come here? They eat, they get treatment, they lift, they’re on the court, they watch film. So just thinking through that, keeping it simple and making each of those components the best that it can be is what drove us.”