NEW ORLEANS — Detroit Pistons center Greg Monroe, a former Helen Cox star, was back in New Orleans on Friday, his third time visiting his hometown for a game as an NBA player.
However, as much as he misses family and friends, when the team flew into New Orleans on Thursday, he did not venture out, except to visit his mother. For him, it was a business trip, and the game against the Hornets was most important, even though the Pistons came in at 23-37 this season.
“I mean, I grew up here ... but I’m not here on a vacation,” he said after his team’s shoot-around Friday morning. “This is not anything where I get to come home for a couple of days. It’s no different from any other road game.
“Of course I went to (see) my mother, and I ate at home. But outside of that, I have my regular routine.”
Monroe, who was the nation’s top player as a senior when he led Helen Cox to the Class 4A state championship, is in his third season with the Pistons, and handling his business on the court is what has become routine.
He had a promising rookie season after being the No. 7 draft pick out of Georgetown in 2010. Last season, there was no sophomore slump. This season, he clearly has emerged as one of the better centers in the NBA, often getting points and rebounds double-doubles.
He averaged 9.4 points and 7.5 rebounds as a rookie starting 48 games. As a starter last season with more playing time, he put up 15.4 points and 9.6 rebounds in the 66-game lockout-shortened schedule. This season, he’s at 16.1 and 9.6 but is more of a focus of team’s defenses.
“In this league, I just think immensely there’s no substitute for experience,” he said. “The longer I’ve played (with the Pistons) and the more games I’ve played, the more accustomed I’ve gotten to the NBA game. The longer you play in this game, you learn how to do different things, you become better, you pick up more little small skills that make a big difference in your game.”
Pistons coach Lawrence Frank said because Monroe’s game is fundamentally based, he will continue to develop well.
Already, however, he has become one of the most consistent players in the league. Known for his multiple skills as a big man even in high school, among NBA centers, he is fifth in double-doubles with 28, third in scoring, fourth in rebounding and second in assists (3.3).
Hornets coach Monty Williams called Monroe “a stud,” saying he is a difficult matchup.
“He’s big, he’s crafty around the basket, he can shoot the ball,” Williams said. “He played in that Princeton offense at Georgetown, so he can pass. He has a nice package for a guy 6-10, 6-11, and he’s left-handed, and that throws you off. I think he’s a really good player.”
Monroe had 27 points and 10 rebounds in a 100-95 loss Friday, but Hornets point guard Greivis Vasquez said his team being able to slow Monroe briefly was a key.
“Monroe to me is an All-Star,” Vasquez said. “He is a monster. He just played. (His team) doesn’t have a good record, but this guy can play. He was destroying our paint.”
Monroe’s prowess in the lane is one of the reasons, Frank said, the team is first in the Eastern Conference and second in the league in points in the paint at 46.1, behind only the Denver Nuggets (57.1).
Frank said there’s no doubt Monroe, who is second in the East centers in scoring behind Brook Lopez, is a budding All-Star.
“Greg has All-Star ability, but many times, your team has to be a winning team,” Frank said. “(Cleveland Cavaliers point guard) Kyrie Irving’s situation was unique in that he’s high level and you had an injury to (Celtics point guard) Rajon Rondo.
“It’s tough to get the fan vote, and most coaches (who also vote) look at how you impact winning. As our team continues to get better, Greg will get national notice, and that’s the way it should be.”
The direction of the Pistons looks good, Monroe said, with second-year point guard Brandon Knight and rookie big man Andre Drummond coming after him as excellent draft picks. Monroe has taken a step toward helping the team get better and get that national notice by improving defensively, Frank said.
“I think he’s become a better communicator defensively,” he said. “He’s still learning body positioning defensively, but he’s made strides there. He’s become a better help defender.”
Monroe said he works on improving, and defense has been a primary focus.
“I think I’ve gotten better defensively,” he said. “I put in a lot of time last summer, going to different places and working on different skills. I want to continue to get better defensively, continue to be consistent (offensively) in the post, getting more moves and finding new ways to counter. Teams have adjusted to me, so I have to find new ways to be successful.”
He lost against the Hornets in New Orleans for the third time in a row. He has never beaten them at New Orleans Arena. The trip home brings pleasant basketball memories, however.
He remembers while in high school talking to former Hornets coach Byron Scott before one of team’s games.
“I definitely was a big Hornets fan, and I just remember the playoff run (in 2008) against San Antonio, when they had Chris Paul,” he said. “The atmosphere was just crazy.”