DETROIT, MI - MARCH 13: Eugene Omoruyi #97 of the Detroit Pistons drives to the basket during the game against the Indiana Pacers on March 13, 2023 at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, Michigan. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2023 NBAE (Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images)

Omoruyi wins a job by oozing the ‘nitty-gritty’ Pistons culture

The trade for James Wiseman that cost the Pistons Saddiq Bey and Kevin Knox made the Pistons off-season roster needs overwhelmingly obvious. But Troy Weaver didn’t wait for the off-season to arrive to begin filling the need for wing players. And Eugene Omoruyi isn’t wired to wait, regardless.

Omoruyi signed his second 10-day contract with the Pistons on Monday and drew his first start with them hours later. All he did was help the Pistons to their first win since the All-Star break, earn more minutes than any starter and post the best plus/minus number on the team.

That second 10-day contract expires in the middle of next week when there will still be nearly three weeks of the NBA season to go, but Omoruyi is going to make it an impossible call to do anything but convert him to a standard contract if his next four games resemble his first six in a Pistons uniform. If Omoruyi has seemed an easy fit in Detroit, that’s because he feels like an easy fit in Detroit.

“Just the culture of Detroit basketball is what is embedded in my game,” he said after a 17-point, six-rebound, three-steal night in the 117-97 trouncing of Indiana. “The nitty-gritty, the tough, grit style.”

Omoruyi grew up playing soccer in Toronto and gravitated to basketball late, in his freshman and sophomore years when he followed his friends to the sport. If the finer points of the game were beyond his reach at the time, he soon discovered his size and athleticism could help him make a mark if he added effort to the mix.

“When I started, energy and defense was the only thing that got me on the court and I built it from there,” he said. “I just put the work behind the hard work and everything paid off.”

At 6-foot-7 on a thickly built frame, Omoruyi earned a scholarship to Rutgers and started 11 games as a freshman under first-year head coach Steve Pikiell, let the Scarlet Knights in scoring as a junior and then transferred to Oregon for his final year, the 2020-21 season aborted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Omoruyi wound up sharing the team lead in scoring at 17.1 points a game with Chris Duarte, who happened to be in Indiana’s starting lineup for Monday’s game.

But while Duarte got to the NBA through the front door as a lottery pick, Omoruyi had to pry open a window. Omoruyi went undrafted in 2021, then signed a two-way deal with Dallas and appeared in four games before suffering an injury and being waived. Oklahoma City signed him to a two-way contract last July and he appeared in 23 games, including two starts, with the Thunder. They converted him to a standard contract in February only to waive him 16 days later. The Pistons, left short on the wing by the February trade and also with Bojan Bogdanovic’s absence while dealing with Achilles soreness, pounced.

And Omoruyi, in turn, has hit the ground running. The sample size is still tiny, but the consistency of Omoruyi’s impact is mounting. Game after game, the Pistons have performed better with him on the court than on the bench. He was a team-best plus 24 in the win over Indiana and going into the game the Pistons had a net rating of 121.6 with Omoruyi playing as opposed to 103.6 with him sitting.

Dwane Casey said Omoruyi made the same positive impression on all of his staff immediately for his attitude – the willingness to fill whatever role asked of him – and his aptitude.

“Every year there are 60 (draft picks) coming in and a lot of ’em are coming in to take your job and he’s coming to take someone’s job,” Casey said. “He comes in to shootaround, he’s going a hundred. We have to tell him to slow down. He’s hungry. I always say a guy who has his PhD – poor, hungry, driven – they’re going to make it in this league.”

“It’s a long journey, but I’ve learned from a lot of vets that everyone’s journey is different,” Omoruyi said. “Just keep going, no matter what the obstacle is. Any time I get a chance to get on that court, I’m going to give it my all because tomorrow’s not promised for anybody. I know someone’s chasing my shoes the same way I’m chasing someone’s shoes. That’s how I always play.”

Omoruyi has bounced around enough to get a sense of fit and his conviction is that Detroit is the place that best fits him. His mother and friends have been able to make the short commute from Ontario to Detroit for several games already to help it feel even more like home for him.

“Troy, great guy. He’s helped me make the transition process very easy. I’m loving it here so far. I feel like I could just be myself and play my game. I’m not in a box. I feel I could just come out here and play the style I’ve played my whole life.”

He’s guaranteed to get to play it for another four games. And then the PhD holder seems a pretty good bet to earn some post-doc work with the Pistons.