Andre Drummond didn’t have a driver’s license when he moved to Detroit this past summer. His mother, Christine Cameron, gave him rides so he could get around the city and train at the Pistons’ practice facility. She’s currently living with him and his younger sister, Ariana, just a short drive — which Drummond now can do on his own — from the Palace of Auburn Hills.
Drummond is 19 years old. His three favorite movies are March of the Penguins, Happy Feet and Happy Feet Two. Last year, he was the world’s largest Gumby for Halloween. Asked to sketch something for the NBA’s trading card partner at the Rookie Transition Program, he produced the bugged-out Kirby at the top of this post.
His age isn’t immediately obvious looking at him, though. While the majority of rookies need to fill out their frames, Drummond’s draft preparation involved shedding extra weight so he could be lighter on his feet. Listed at 6’10 and 270 pounds, Drummond is easily the most physically imposing player in his draft class and on his team. He has center strength with wing player agility and athleticism. He covers ground on defense and scouts salivate. He dunks and blocks shots and fans fawn.
He did these things last year at UConn and the previous two at St. Thomas More high school. At each stage, though, the conversation surrounding him changed more than Drummond did. In high school he was the consensus No. 1 player in his class, understood to be raw but considered a can’t miss prospect. Heaps of hype followed him to college, and when he and his team didn’t dominate as easily as expected, people looked at his physical prowess and questioned his motor, his mind and his love of the game.
“What went through my mind is this is a freshman in college,” said Jere Quinn. Quinn is the head coach at St. Thomas More, a man Drummond describes as “like a father to me.” Turns out, sometimes if you’re a young, goofy kid and you don’t yet possess a polished offensive game, you’ll be painted as someone who doesn’t take the game seriously.
“When I first met Andre he was trying to sell that he was a 3-man,” said Quinn with a laugh. “It was like, ‘Oh, great. Great, but we’re going to make you into more of a power player, if you’re okay with that. I think your livelihood will be revolving more around the basket.’ But I mean he puts the ball on the floor pretty well, he’s got pretty good vision, he catches freaking everything. But at the same time he enjoys it. He seems to enjoy it. And that was the irony when people were calling me last year and they were asking about his motor. I said, ‘You’re talking about a kid who loves to be in the gym to the point where he was an assistant coach for the JV team during our season his senior year.’ I said, ‘That’s not a kid who doesn’t like basketball. You’re not volunteering to coach the JV team sitting on the sideline in a shirt and tie in your senior year if you don’t love being in the gym and love the game.”
“I just like working with kids, man,” said Drummond. “It’s always been a thing of mine. Just trying to give back and just share some of the knowledge that I have.” As well as coaching, Drummond was a residential assistant and a tour guide for prospective students.
“He was 18 years old,” Quinn said. “With expectations to get University of Connecticut back-to-back national championships. It’s just like, let’s slow the process down. Let him be 18. Now, let him be 19. Next year, let him be 20. He’s a young kid who enjoys life, who enjoys his family, who enjoys basketball, who’s got unlimited potential [which] I believe he will eventually maximize. But let it happen in the proper course. And in the interim, just enjoy the kid.
“He’s your typical 19 year old,” said fellow Detroit rookie Kyle Singer, whose path to the NBA included four years at Duke and a year in Spain. “I remember when I was that age, I was just a kid that’s fun-loving, not a care in the world. He’s just a down to earth guy.”
“At times I definitely forget that I’m five years older than Andre,” Singler said. “At the same time we’re rookies, we’re at different points in our career.”
While Singler lived on his own in Madrid before becoming a Piston, Drummond is happy to have his family with him as a pro. “It’s great just having them out there in the city with me because I won’t be by myself,” he said. “Having a home cooked meal every day is not too bad, neither. And just having them there for support really is the biggest thing for me.”
Cameron goes to games in Detroit and, when her son plays on the road, she calls or texts afterward. “His mom gets it, his sister’s adorable,” said Quinn. “He’s got a good package as a family. And I think that’s one of the reasons Andre is so even-keeled and level-headed because when he was with us her focus was never really on the athletics, it was more on the academics and his character. Which quite honestly didn’t need a lot of work.”
What do need work are Drummond’s fundamentals. His ability to affect a game with his athleticism and bulk was evident from his first preseason outing. But to the chagrin of Pistons fans who rightfully see him as franchise’s future, he’s only averaging 18.5 minutes per game as he figures out the nuances of the professional game. Even without a go-to post move or any semblance of an outside shot, Drummond is posting per-36 minute averages of 12.6 points, 12.5 rebounds, 2.5 blocks and 1.5 steals while shooting 57 percent from the floor.
“Watching him on film, he’s a beast,” said Toronto Raptors head coach Dwane Casey. “He’s strong, he’s big, he’s aggressive, he’s learning the NBA game. I’m sure he, like most rookies, makes a lot of mistakes — offensively, defensively, he’s not where he’s supposed to be — but physically and athletically he’s going to be a force to be reckoned with in this league.”
Detroit head coach Lawrence Frank isn’t limiting Drummond’s minutes because of any off the court issues or a deficient work ethic. He knows the fans, and some writers, want to see him on the floor more often and, to them, he stresses patience. Frank continually says Drummond is a “tremendous, tremendous young man” with a bright future who will see his minutes increase if he keeps up what he’s been doing.
“He just continues to get better,” said Frank. “He’s got a great spirit and energy about him and, every day, he comes to work. He’s a sponge.”
Drummond says the toughest part of the NBA transition has been the travel. He also mentions, like most rookies do, the physicality and speed of the game. Getting used to that as well as new terminology, new teammates and an entirely different lifestyle from what he was used to at college and boarding school is not easy, but he’s doing the work to learn. Enter the Pistons locker room before a game and you’ll find him hunched over a laptop with assistant coach Roy Rogers, going over game tape.
“That’s just something I’ve always done even throughout college — watch film on different players and different schemes that they have,” Drummond said. “But coming to the NBA, it’s a lot more high-tech stuff so we break it down to just one player and the different things that they do. So that’s one of the biggest things I’ve been working with.”
“He’s a great guy because he’s very very coachable,” Frank said. “And when your better players are coachable that sends a message to your whole team. So as he continues to grow and develop, as long as he keeps that ‘we’ mentality and that coachability mentality, then he has an unbelievable upside.”
There are no questions about his attitude coming from the people closest to him, and those who were yelling about his supposed lack of love of the game are quiet these days. “What’s there not to love?” says Drummond. “You’re playing the game that you love. Night in and night out, it’s a passion game.”