Strangers until recently, Pistons Thomas & Brown run parallel paths

Pistons rookie Khyri Thomas said he’ll use Luke Kennard as his ‘third eye’ as Kennard sits out Summer League with a minor knee injury.
Jennifer Pottheiser (NBAE/Getty)
by Keith Langlois
Web Editor

AUBURN HILLS – Once Ed Stefasnki drafted Khyri Thomas, it should have come as no surprise that he took Bruce Brown a few minutes later. If Thomas appealed to him, Brown certainly should have, too.

They’re not mirror images as basketball players, necessarily. Thomas comes to the NBA as a better 3-point shooter, Brown as a better rebounder and passer. But there are more similarities than differences in their competitiveness, their level-headedness, their basketball IQ and their focus on team over self.

And on draft night, though neither was invited to the NBA’s green room for the approximate top 20 prospects, both decided to go to New York’s Barclays Center anyway and were there to pose for pictures and shake hands. Thomas and Brown, in fact, sat near each other and waited it out together.

“We actually did sit right across from each other,” Thomas said. “It was a long time. We were just in our chairs like, ‘man, c’mon. Just c’mon already.’ We were kind of the last two guards to get picked. We were just like, ‘We’ve got to go in with a positive mindset, not worry about how high we went but just our focus level throughout this whole year.’ ”

Thomas and Brown came to Auburn Hills after the draft and spent the past three days working out at the team’s practice facility before heading to Las Vegas for the start of Summer League practices on Monday. They’ll be joined on the Summer League roster by the team’s last two No. 1 picks, Luke Kennard and Henry Ellenson, as well as Reggie Hearn, who’s on a two-way contract. It was also reported on Thursday that the team has signed undrafted Texas Tech point guard Keenan Evans, a first-team All-Big 12 conference pick, to a two-way deal.

“I can’t wait,” Brown said. “I haven’t played five on five since January because I’ve been hurt the second half of the season, so I can’t wait to get out there and prove myself.”

“I think I’m too excited sometimes, but it is what it is,” Thomas said. “The first NBA experience, so hopefully I won’t be too nervous but play my game and do what I do best.”

Thomas came into the world three months – and into the NBA four picks – ahead of Brown. Thomas, from Omaha, Neb., spent a year after high school at a Virginia prep school; Brown, from Boston, spent his last two high school years at a Vermont prep school.

In college, they had a knack for showing up in big games. As a freshman before a sophomore season that started with a hand injury and ended after just 19 games with a January foot injury, Brown scored 30 in a win over North Carolina and 25 as Miami beat Duke. With Creighton on the NCAA tournament bubble late last season, Thomas scored 24 points to go with nine rebounds and four steals in a win over eventual national champion Villanova.

“We were happy with our draft night getting two young wings,” Stefanski said Thursday. “They’ve been with us this week. Really, really strong personalities, good basketball IQ, professional, they work hard – I’m really thrilled with them so far. The test will be when they get on the basketball court, but as people, very happy with that.”

Stefanski swapped two future second-round picks for Thomas to give the Pistons, whose first-round pick was sent to the Clippers in the Blake Griffin trade, the chance to come away from draft night with two players many expected to be drafted in the first round.

Thomas was a two-time Defensive Player of the Year in the Big East. Brown, athletic and rangy, was used to guard the best perimeter player at Miami. Nobody has to tell them that the way to see the floor as NBA rookies is to win your coach’s trust defensively.

“To compete for time, defense will be our calling card,” Brown said. “They already have scorers. Blake, (Andre) Drummond, Reggie (Jackson).”

“Defense is just important to me, important to the past coaches that I’ve played for,” Thomas said. “That’s the way to get on the court. My freshman year, that was the only way I started was defense and then I progressed my game from there. Defense is something I look forward to and hopefully that gets me on the court.”

They’d never met until the draft process threw them together and fate brought Khyri Thomas and Bruce Brown to the Pistons. But they’ve been running on parallel paths for most of their 22 years. No wonder Ed Stefanski wound up taking them both.