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Beno Udrih gets crash course in Pistons playbook

Rod Beard
The Detroit News
Beno Udrih

Auburn Hills — Beno Udrih hadn’t even met his new Detroit Pistons teammates before he was in the gym Tuesday morning.

After the Pistons claimed Udrih off waivers Monday, he was already learning the offense with assistant coach Charles Klask before Tuesday’s practice. With their regular season beginning Wednesday in Toronto, the Pistons needed to give Udrih a crash course in everything, even before his first official practice.

A 12-year veteran, Udrih will need to pick things up quickly, as he’ll be the primary backup point guard behind Ish Smith until Reggie Jackson returns, likely in early December. Coach Stan Van Gundy knows making the move for Udrih so soon before the regular season was risky, but he’s confident Udrih can pick things up quickly.

“We’ll be a little more limited in what we run with him on the court,” Van Gundy said. “Charles got an hour in with him before practice. He’s got enough to play. He’s a smart guy and been around with 800 games of experience.

“It’s not like we’ve got some play here he’s never seen; it’s just putting names with stuff and he knows how to execute stuff. He was talking to some of our young guys about execution.”

After being released by the Miami Heat, Udrih was just looking for another opportunity and fell into a favorable one.

“I was at home and got a call from my agent that the Pistons sent in a claim,” Udrih said. “Obviously, I was excited immediately. It’s always good to be wanted and knowing the Pistons are a good organization, I was really excited, so I started packing.”

For the Pistons and Udrih, it’ll be a quick getting-to-know-you phase, but getting comfortable on the court and being able to execute the offense are the most important tasks. While Van Gundy valued Udrih’s experience over Ray McCallum’s, there were other considerations, including his ability to score from various spots and organize the other reserve players.

Pistons pointing toward greater expectations

“Everybody thinks he’s ready to go and can help us, particularly at the offensive end of the floor. He’s a very good pick-and-roll player. He’s a good mid-range jump shooter and can get the ball to other people,” Van Gundy said. “He does a great job organizing a team and getting you into offense and the ball to the right place at the right time.

“What he’ll do more than anything is get our other guys in position where they have a chance to play really well.”

Tough conversation

Van Gundy didn’t plan on making a move, but when the opportunity to improve the team came around, he had to make a tough decision.

On Monday, after he claimed Udrih off waivers, he had to waive McCallum, which turned out to be more difficult than just a typical conversation in releasing a player.

Because of a coaching relationship and friendship with McCallum’s father, Ray Sr., of more than 20 years, it didn’t make the task of telling McCallum — who thought he had made the Pistons’ final roster — any easier.

“I’ve been at this a long time and that was the hardest (roster cut) I ever had to make,” Van Gundy said. “I didn’t feel really good about it yesterday evening. It was rough.

“I don’t say that for sympathy — because it was a lot rougher on him than it was on me.”

But Van Gundy credited McCallum, who played at Detroit Country Day and the University of Detroit, for taking the difficult news well and handling it like a professional. McCallum had beaten out Lorenzo Brown for the final roster spot, but it turned out to be only temporary.

“(He took it) like you would expect he would, with great class and dignity and wishing us well and saying he understood,” Van Gundy said. “That made it harder.”

Pistons at Raptors

Tipoff: Wednesday, 7:30 p.m., Air Canada Centre, Toronto.

TV / radio: FSD / WMGC.

Notable: It’s the season opener for two of the projected top teams in the Eastern Conference. The Pistons will be without Reggie Jackson (knee tendinitis) but Aron Baynes (broken nose) will be available. The Raptors won by 11 in the preseason finale last week.

Twitter @detnewsRodBeard