Monroe as Mentor

Pistons team effort in nurturing Drummond starts with Greg Monroe

ORLANDO – Greg Monroe stands as the shining example for Pistons fans that first impressions show no more than snapshots of a motion picture under production. The Monroe who didn’t get off the bench for the first two games of his NBA career and then had difficulty getting shots off without them being blocked bears little resemblance to the double-double machine on the verge of stardom today.

But you have to start somewhere, right?

For Andre Drummond, it started Thursday night in the Barnett Recreation Center on West Colonial Drive in Orlando, where he and Monroe met and traded elbows during an intense 2½-hour practice as the Pistons prepare for five games in the Orlando Pro Summer League starting Monday.

“He definitely had a very good practice,” Monroe grinned after it was over. “He altered a lot of shots in the paint. He has some work to do, but we’re going to make sure he works hard and he’s going to get better. I’m not worried about that. The coaching staff is great. The players on the team are going to make sure we do our part, also, to help him get better.”

Since the moment Monroe began emerging as the player the Pistons hoped they were getting when they spent the seventh pick in the 2010 draft on him after two years at Georgetown, Joe Dumars and his staff have been on the prowl for a young frontcourt player to complement his skills. Drummond’s length and athleticism make him the ideal candidate, but at 18 and with only a challenging year at UConn under his belt, the transition won’t be immediate.

“Any player coming into the league, there’s a big adjustment,” Monroe said. “You can say that about anybody. He’s still young. He has a long way to go, but he’s here now and it’s our job to make sure he continues to get better.”

Dumars spoke of the mentoring required for any young player last week. It’s not about any individual assuming responsibility, he said, as much as it is establishing a nurturing culture where positive examples are everywhere. But no individual will be more critical in Drummond’s development than Monroe, only two years removed from arriving as a highly touted young big man. He’s already walked the path Drummond now embarks upon.

“Coach L told me to take some personal responsibility as far as helping him out a whole lot and working with him on some things,” said Monroe, who remembered his first day as a Summer League rookie. “He got lucky, actually. I think the first day we got into Vegas my rookie year, we had a two-a-day. He has one practice. Tonight he gets to go home and think about stuff from one practice. I had to go home and think about stuff from two. But I think he’s catching on pretty fast.”

Monroe expected Drummond’s length and athleticism. He was surprised by a few other things.

“He’s definitely strong,” he said. “He’s definitely a Brahma bull down there. But the thing that surprised me is he has pretty quick hands. That’s going to help him out a whole lot early. It’s one thing to change shots above the rim, but if you can also keep guys off guard by also catching the ball while they’re still on the ground, it helps you out a whole lot.”

Monroe took note of Drummond over the course of the college season. He ventures up to the second-floor offices of Joe D and his staff once or twice a week during the season and takes note of the large whiteboards in the offices of the scouting staff that list the names of draftable prospects. Drummond’s, of course, was listed prominently, though the Pistons never really believed until the final days leading to the draft that they might have a chance to land him with the ninth pick.

“I go up in there and pick their brains and learn about some players I might not know about,” Monroe said. “A guy like him, playing in the Big East and being on television a lot, you get to see him. But I asked about him and saw how much they liked him. I’m happy he’s here. I think they made the right decision and now it’s just time to get to work.”

Monroe won’t play in Summer League games as a well-established NBA starter, but Frank strongly believes in the value of young veterans being around their teammates in this setting and joining them for practices. Monroe readily agreed to participate.

“To get some time early with Andre and just to work out with the team, build some chemistry early,” he said. “Even though I’m not playing in games, we’ll still have a few days of practice, make sure we get that timing early so that part will be out of the way when we start training camp. We’ll be back (at the team’s Auburn Hills practice facility) in September, but right now just getting some good work in. There’s nothing like practice, so I decided to come out here. They asked me. Of course I would come, get some work in and be around my teammates.

“We’re trying to build something different here. It started last year and right now I’m just trying to do whatever I can to help it continue to get better.”

One way the Pistons get better is to tighten up defensively, something that in theory, at least, becomes easier to achieve with a 7-foot shot-blocker at the back end. Drummond has every physical tool to fill that role.

“When a guy is taking up that much space, you have to at least think about him,” Monroe said of the value Drummond offers. “That’s something that is going to be added with him out there and that’s something we needed. Hopefully, he continues to get better and he’s ready for the season.”

But as Greg Monroe can attest, the Drummond that starts the season likely will bear little resemblance to the player he becomes. It’s a journey that has to start somewhere. For Andre Drummond, it starts next to teammates willing to take every step at his side.