"What did he say!"
The exclamation from Greg Monroe in March wasn't really a question.
He knew what was said. It was more like a declaration. Think Ali (then Cassius Clay) after he bested Sonny Liston in the classic bout that launched the career of the boxing legend.
Monroe, standing under the basket near the end of the Pistons' 124-112 win over the Sacramento Kings at Power Balance Pavilion, directed his comments toward media row.
Before the game, it came to his attention that a member of the Kings privately derided Monroe's ability to a local writer.
Monroe said he wasn't worried about it. But his play told a different tale.
He destroyed DeMarcus Cousins, a fellow member of the 2010 draft class who was selected two spots before the Pistons picked Monroe at No. 7. The midrange jumper was working, and Monroe was a beast on the glass.
The final stat line for Monroe: 32 points, 11 rebounds and three assists.
Cousins' night: 14 points and seven rebounds before fouling out in 27 minutes.
And there Monroe stood -- making sure the media noticed possibly his best game in two promising seasons with the Pistons.
The night was an example of the damage the 6-foot-11 big man from Georgetown can do when motivated. And after a season that saw him average 15.4 points and 9.7 rebounds, the Pistons organization thinks another slight will motivate him to take that next step to NBA stardom.
"I always tell the guys this: Whatever your motivation is to be great is OK with me," president of basketball operations Joe Dumars said last week. "Whatever your motivation is, as long as you got motivation to continue to be great and strive to be really good in this league, I'm in support of it."
When first asked to recall USA Basketball's decision to pass on Monroe for the U.S. Select Team, Monroe downplayed it.
The team, which helps prepare Team USA for the Olympics, is considered a showcase for up-and-coming young talent and a stepping-stone to making the national team.
But despite noting his promise, USA Basketball went with 12 other players. The organization said it picked players it felt would best prepare the team for the London Games.
Yet Monroe's ballhandling and passing are reminiscent of the European game. And what's more galling: Players like DeJuan Blair, Taj Gibson and Lance Thomas never will make an Olympic team.
Cousins also made the team, which is interesting because the Pistons won more games than the Kings the past two seasons.
So it's understandable why prodded about USA Basketball and the game last March, Monroe promised never to forget any slights.
"It's always something that can motivate a player, no matter what it is," Monroe said. "I'm a competitor, and I look for any edge to give me that extra life.
"Anytime there's something extra, it drives you even more, so I don't forget much, if anything. I always try to find something. You hear the stories about the great ones, how there was something that made them mad or something like that, whatever it might be."
The organization shared Monroe's anger. In two seasons, he has impressed them with his character and values that are tailor-made for Team USA.
But privately the front office can see the silver lining -- Monroe was able to spend the entire off-season in the Pistons program. It's a first for Monroe since his first off-season was interrupted by the lockout.
He attacked it with vigor, going above and beyond, like when he worked out with the rookies and free agents before the beginning of summer league play in Orlando. Coach Lawrence Frank recalls days when Monroe would catch the first thing moving from his hometown of New Orleans and go straight to the practice facility from the airport to work out.
"It has been a big help to have my feet on the floor this summer with the coaching staff and with the team," Monroe said. "I definitely think I made strides this summer by being here more and being with the guys at summer league. ... I think I improved a lot this summer."
His midrange jumper is more consistent, and Frank will take advantage of Monroe's passing abilities to serve as the hub of the offense at times.
The time with the team also allowed him to become familiar with first-round pick Andre Drummond. The duo has looked good during brief times playing with each other in the exhibition season.
"When we are on the court together, we are definitely really comfortable together," Drummond said. "We know each other's spots, we know where each other likes the ball, and we play really well together.
"He's an easy person to go to because he's been in the same position as I am. He knows the ins and outs, and some of the tips and information he gave me throughout training camp so far have been great."
Contract time looms
This is a big season in many ways. First, the organization believes it has a team that can end the postseason drought at three seasons.
A good season from Monroe could lead to the Pistons having an All-Star Game representative for the first time since Allen Iverson in 2009.
The season also will help determine Monroe's worth. Next off-season, he will be eligible for a contract extension worth up to five years and $75 million, which would begin in the 2014-15 season when Monroe will be 24.
The inability of the Oklahoma City Thunder and swingman James Harden to agree to a contract extension before the deadline of midnight tonight was why Harden was traded to the Houston Rockets, tonight's season-opener opponent for the Pistons. Harden will sign an extension with the Rockets.
Such extensions are rare with teams preferring to hedge their bets with a simple qualifying offer after the third season to make the player a free agent.
But they will make the commitment with an obvious franchise cornerstone. Monroe figures to be such a player.
He promises to keep his focus on the floor.
"Flat out, I'm happy where I'm at," Monroe said. "I'm happy to be here. I believe they feel the same way on the other side. I'm just focusing on what I have to do to win games.
"That's something where you have an agent. They do most of that talking anyway, so at the end of the day, I'm going to do my job and let the Pistons on the other side do their job. I trust my agent a whole lot. I'm not worried about that."