November 13, 2009 at 1:00 am

Terry Foster

Big Ben back home, preaching defense

Ben Wallace, working on Tyson Chandler on Wednesday night, is averaging a team-high 9.5 rebounds, (Clarence Tabb Jr./The Detroit News)

Auburn Hills -- There was a jump in his step and a twinkle in his eyes as Ben Wallace walked through the dressing room following the Pistons' 98-75 victory over the Bobcats on Wednesday night.

This was a Wallace-type of game, filled with grit and sweat and bruised elbows and kneecaps. His stat line read zero points, nine rebounds, three blocked shots, three steals and teammate Ben Gordon swears 50 deflections.

Wallace is home again in more ways than one. He's back in Detroit, where he enjoyed his greatest success as an NBA player. And he's back in the paint, roving, stalking and making life uncomfortable for opponents.

Wallace has been more than a player in his return to the Pistons. He has been coach and mentor to a team For a team still learning the finer points of playing defense, he has been a coach and a mentor -- and not by yelling and screaming. Rather, the demolition man has turned into the demonstration man.

"I try to lead by example," Wallace said. "Just go out there and do it. Sometimes you can tell a person something and it gets lost in the delivery. If you go out there and show him then, it is easy to see. Sometimes guys get bored with talking."

'The sky is the limit'

Everybody is motivated by winning and there are some compelling numbers suggesting the Pistons should listen to Big Ben: The Pistons have given up 101.8 points a game in their four losses and 77.5 in their four victories

Now you see why players are listening to his defense lectures. The proof is in the nightly box score.

Pistons coach John Kuester admits this attention to defense is a work in progress. Charlie Villanueva and Ben Gordon were not known for their defense when they got here. Point guard Rodney Stuckey struggles, too, at times. But now they are listening and being molded by Wallace.

His mentorship is so strong that Kuester jokes the Pistons should give Wallace a second salary as an assistant coach. The Pistons are tied for sixth (89.62) for points allowed and they rank third in holding opponents to 41.9-percent shooting from the field.It doesn't always work. There are lapses in practice and in games. That is when Wallace might do more than show and tell.

That is when his voice might be raised.

"I played with Ben Gordon in Chicago. He knows what I am all about," Wallace said. "He knows I am going to stress defense. I am going to ask everybody to guard their man. If you play hard and get beat, then help will be there. And I talk to Charlie before every game. I let him know what he has to do and where he has to be. They are doing a great job of responding for the most part.

"That is all you can ask. The sky is the limit for this team."

'In his comfort zone'

Wallace, 35, is the elder statesman. He knows as much about this league as anyone and, so far, his teammates are eager to listen. That wasn't the case in Cleveland, where he played last season. In recent years, he's battled a bad back, bad knees and sore joints. He was not the Wallace of old and like most, the Cavaliers believed Wallace was washed up.

"I wasn't able to do the things I knew I could do," Wallace said. "In Cleveland, I felt like the team gave up on me. They were playing me sympathy minutes. As a basketball player, you have a lot of pride. That cuts you deep."

Now Wallace is healthy and home. That's why Richard Hamilton predicted a big season for him.

"He's in his comfort zone here," Hamilton said. "Detroit is where he belongs."

So far, so good, for Wallace, who's averaging a team-high 9.5 rebounds a game. Wallace never gave up his Detroit ties even when he was being shipped around the league. Detroit is the original no-fly zone.

"I know a few things," Wallace said with a smile.

The old dog is teaching new tricks to the young guys, eager students who make him the old mentor smile.

"I am happy and I am healthy," Wallace said. "And I can do the things again I know I can do. So my thing this year is to stay happy and healthy."

terry.foster@detnews.com">terry.foster@detnews.com (313) 222-1494

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