BY VINCENT GOODWILL THE DETROIT NEWS
Auburn Hills -- He stood in the corner, waiting on the swing pass to find him, but when Tayshaun Prince's line of sight was clogged by DeMarcus Cousins, Austin Daye made his 210-pound frame more visible to the similarly-built forward, darting to the right wing for a three that turned out the lights Tuesday night.
The 3-pointer, punctuated by Daye crouching down and flashing three fingers on his way to the bench, not only signified the Pistons' third straight win but was the ultimate signal of the oft-confused and sometimes misused fourth-year forward's return to the land of the living — a place he wasn't sure would happen here, in Detroit, in crunch time, in a meaningful, momentum-building game.
"Shoot it. That's how it is, when I get the ball with time left on the clock, I'm trying to get off a good shot," Daye said. "Tayshaun found me in a good spot and I let it go. I knew it was pretty much in when it left my hands."
He knew it was good when it left his hands, a feeling Daye hasn't felt in quite a long time, almost since the 2010-11 season, to be precise.
"I just know when I shoot the ball, I feel it has a good chance of going in so I'm going to let it fly," said Daye, who finished with 13 points in the Pistons' 103-97 win Tuesday, their fifth in six games, which coincided with Daye's emergence from Pistons coach Lawrence Frank's doghouse for the first time this season.
Even for Prince, a player Daye was presumably drafted to be groomed to replace in 2009 as a first-round pick, he's witnessed the growth and maturity that's taken place.
"He's making shots, and rebounding the basketball, something a couple years ago I wouldn't have been able to say," Prince said after the game. "It's a part of growing and something Coach was teaching and I was on him about, him playing my position. I think he was tired of hearing about it (laughs)."
Daye candidly admitted the Prince re-signing after the lockout ended a year ago — at the urging of Frank, no less — rattled him and played a part in his disastrous 2011-12 season.
The smile that often covered his face was replaced by looks to the bench at every turn, even when he made sound basketball plays. He was in his own head and the one thing that kept him on the floor — his shooting — betrayed him, as he shot 32 percent from the field and a shocking 21 percent behind the arc.
"Tayshaun signed for four years, I'm a human being just like anybody else," Daye said. "Now I'm just playing, I'm going to be productive no matter how many minutes I get."
Rededicated to game
Dealing with myriad issues last season, including his mother's battle with multiple sclerosis, weighed on him. He admitted he couldn't compartmentalize as well as he should've and instead of the game being his sanctuary, it became another source of something he couldn't control as well as he'd like.
"It was a lot of stress, a lot of stuff, issues," said Daye, 24. "And also the basketball, it's life. I think a lot of people think because you're a basketball player you don't have real problems."
Problems aside, the slim forward rededicated himself to the game this summer — after his decision to play in Russia during the lockout set him back tremendously — and played in Summer League, something almost unheard of for a fourth-year player. He also put himself on a weight program to gain some much needed bulk.
And this season didn't start off the way he wanted to, either. Being placed at power forward put him squarely in competition with the more proven Villanueva, Jason Maxiell and Jonas Jerebko, as well as the growing duo of rookie Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe.
"I think the biggest thing that stands out to me in terms of the difference is professionalism," Frank said. "Not that he wasn't professional last year, but when things weren't going his way, every player thinks they should be playing. Look, you've got a lot of talented guys (who) can't play. This year, when he wasn't playing, both he, Charlie, they always stayed the course."
Frank has long commended him for his approach when the DNPs were piling up, but now he looks like an integral part in the Pistons' revival.
"It was tough but I tried to be as professional as possible," Daye said. "I'm still in the gym, getting up shots late at night, making sure I'm sharp. You never know when your position is going to be taken or when you're going to be traded."
Even as he's heard his name in the rumor mill, he feels it'll work out in the long run, as he feels a connection to the organization and wants to make it happen here, rather than elsewhere.
"The struggles to get me to where I'm at, it's made me a better person," Daye said.