Pistons remain bullish on Hilliard’s future as he keeps his nose to the grindstone

ORLANDO – At the risk of criminal prosecution for insider trading, here’s a stock tip for you: If you own stock in the manufacturer of Sour Patch Kids, sell. Like, now.

They’re Darrun Hilliard’s favorite candy. Were, at least. But he’s given them up, along with all candy. All sugary stuff, really.

“I haven’t had candy in so long, man. It’s like a fight, every day,” Hilliard grinned Wednesday after the morning practice during Pistons two-a-day sessions as he prepares for his second go-around at Summer League. “When I was in the airport the other day, you walk by the candy store and it was, ‘I really want to go in there and get a candy bar or some Sour Patch Kids.’ But it’s all good. I’m making these sacrifices, cutting out all sugary foods. I’ve got a really big sweet tooth. I blame that on my mom.”

Most Pistons fans probably can relate to Hilliard’s struggle with temptation on the food front. Here’s the part where you’re reminded that he’s a professional athlete: Hilliard’s actually trying to gain weight. And – so far, so good. He’s packed on about 20 pounds over a year ago. He’s somewhere between 225 and 230 now with his body fat reduced and figures he’ll probably settle in at around 220 for next season.

“I wasn’t trying to get real bulky. I just didn’t want to look like a college player any more,” he said. “More just focused on getting my legs up under me and being able to play through contact. I’ve got a pretty good feel for the game. I just knew if I got my body right, my skills would fall into place.”

With plenty of the summer still ahead – and Hilliard’s been the most consistent presence at the team’s practice facility under strength coach Anthony Harvey – he already feels a difference.

“I set screens or when I take a hit or a bump, I’m not flailing,” he said. “I’m pretty solid. Working with Ant, it’s been really good.”

Hilliard had to bide his time with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Stanley Johnson and Reggie Bullock ahead of him in the pecking order at shooting guard, but he had his moments as a rookie. He helped the Pistons get a big win during their spring playoff drive, stepping in as a starter when both Caldwell-Pope and Bullock came up ill for the March 23 game with Orlando, scoring 11 points to go with six rebounds and three assists while holding a red-hot Victor Oladipo to a 5 of 18 shooting performance.

The Pistons valued Hilliard as a first-round pick when they drafted him and their views of him were only reinforced by his work ethic and focus as a rookie. All those young guys who find themselves out of the league after the two years on their first contract are up because they were too easily distracted by the trappings of NBA lifestyle? Hilliard won’t be one of them. He understands how fleeting it all can be.

All that work he logged as a rookie has also put him at ease with the Summer League experience this time around.

“It’s a lot different when you go through the whole draft process, 16 workouts, and then get drafted. You’ve got to come right to Summer League and you get no time off. It’s a different outlook. Seeing Mike (Gbinije) and Henry (Ellenson, the two Pistons draft picks from last week), you can see their heads are spinning right now. I’m sure they’ll get more comfortable. If they play in this next year, they’ll be the same way I am. They’ll be more comfortable. It’s just great to see that I’m making those steps to be a professional.”

And that’s his goal for the next 10 days. Not to lead Summer League in scoring or dazzle with his playmaking.

“I just want to be a professional. Maybe a lot of people have expectations. Coach has his expectations, I have mine. I just want to come out here and be a pro and show people that I belong. That’s what I was trying to do when I went to the D-League. I’m trying to do that now. If I can just do that and Coach tells me, ‘It looks like you belong,’ then I’m fine with that. I just want to be a professional. That’s all.”

Part of that, apparently, is staying away from the Sour Patch Kids. The watermelon ones, especially.

“I used to eat those almost every day. But now I’ve hired a chef. She’s been great. Before, I was trying to eat right. I was going to the right places but I was getting the unhealthy things at the right places. I was trying to be healthy, but I just didn’t know the right ways to do it. It’s been a good process.”

All the way around. While there will be more eyeballs on his draft partner, Johnson, and on this year’s top pick, Ellenson, and maybe even on the other new guy, Gbinije, Stan Van Gundy and his front office and coaching staffs remain very bullish on Darrun Hilliard’s prospects. When you sell your Sour Patch Kids stock, you might want to buy some Darrun Hilliard futures.