Auburn Hills — In late February, former Purdue center Isaac Haas grabbed the microphone on the Boilermakers’ senior night and laid it all out there.
With tears rolling down his face, the senior thanked the Purdue fans for the support of his younger sister, Erin, who suffers from epileptic seizures. Haas’ personal life was a national story, and the motivation behind his blue-collar game had him pegged as one of the "feel-good" players of the NCAA Tournament.
All of that ended rather unceremoniously. In Purdue’s first-round NCAA Tournament win over Cal State Fullerton at Little Caesars Arena, Haas suffered a fractured elbow, ending his senior season.
Now, with five days until the 2018 NBA Draft, he's ready for a fresh start.
Haas was one of six players participating in a pre-draft workout — not including Maryland’s Justin Jackson, who worked out separately — on Saturday for the Pistons, who have the No. 42 pick in Thursday’s draft.
Afterward, the former Boilermaker spoke on the difficulties of getting ready for the draft after an injury.
"It's been tough running with a forty-pound weight vest all the time," Haas said. "It's pretty tough on your body, but you get that right away, and I feel pretty good now, and I'm starting to see the results of that."
With scoring at the forefront of the Pistons’ offseason needs, it’s hard to imagine that they’d spend their only draft pick on a true center like Haas with Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond already tying up a combined $57 million in cap space next season.
Still, Haas is projected as a late second-round pick, which means he could possibly become a target for Detroit as an undrafted free agent should his name not be called Thursday. With forwards Anthony Tolliver and James Ennis heading for free agency, his 7-foot-2 frame could provide some value as a shot-blocker and scorer.
Haas averaged 14.7 points and 5.7 rebounds in his senior season at Purdue, emulating the “quiet, fundamental” game of his all-time favorite player, former San Antonio Spurs center Tim Duncan. As he transitions to the NBA, Haas said he wants to add a stronger, more physical element to his game.
“I’ve always kind of based my game off the fundamentals of it, never really strayed from that until now,” Haas said. “I’m starting to see a lot more like Shaq (O’Neal) and Hakeem (Olajuwon). Just dominance and size of strength, and also using moves to get to the basket.”
Despite a league-wide trend that favors quickness and flexibility down low, Haas still thinks his ability translates to a new-age NBA.
“Every team needs a big guy when it comes down the stretch and you need a bucket in the low-post,” he said. “Today’s game requires you to be pulled out to the perimeter and make those guys make tough shots.”
Haas added that while his college coaches were reluctant to let him stray from the paint to block shots because of his value as a rebounder, he’s been training with quicker players to work on his lateral game.
“At Purdue, I wasn’t really allowed to come over and block shots more, I was focused on rebounding and boxing out my guy,” Haas said. “But I know I have the ability to do so, I know I have the ability to make shots with really tough with length and size. I think that just makes a big difference. I’m sure NBA teams know that and see that.”
Johnson lends hand
Arizona’s Allonzo Trier was the only guard to work out for the Pistons Saturday.
Averaging 18.1 points in his junior season, Trier’s scoring ability off the dribble makes him a viable option in the second round for Detroit, which worked him out at both guard positions.
“They just want me to come in here and see me show my ability, show the things that I’ve been improving on,” Trier said. “They’ve seen a lot of tape, they know what I can do. They’ve seen areas I’ve improved in. this is about coming in and competing hard, showing my ability, and how it translates.”
Pistons senior adviser Ed Stefanski told the Detroit News Friday that new head coach Dwane Casey’s offensive philosophy will focus on opening up the floor with ball movement, a role that Trier believes will suit him well if he’s not getting premier looks as a shooter right away.
“Obviously when you come in as a rookie,” Trier said, “you’re not going to come in and lead the team in scoring and shoot the most balls, but I definitely think I’ll be a threat and a guy that can bring some playmaking and some firepower to the team.
Trier assumed the spot of childhood friend Stanley Johnson at Arizona when Johnson was selected eighth overall by the Pistons in 2015, and Trier said the two have been in close contact during the draft process.
“Stanley’s one of my good friends, we’ve known each other for a long time — since we were kids — so we keep in touch,” Trier said. “Basically, he knows me and we know each other, so he knows I’m built for this.”
“He just said, ‘Go in there and be yourself. There’s a lot of film on you, people have seen you, so they know what you can do.’ He said, ‘You’re ready for this level and you’ve been ready for a long time, so you’re going to be good when you get here, don’t worry.’”
Looking to stand out
Kevin Hervey left UT-Arlington as the school’s all-time career leader in rebounds and is looking to make a name for himself on the bigger stage.
“I’m a confident guy,” Hervey said after working out for the Pistons Saturday. “I believe in myself, I believe in my abilities, and that’s how you make it from a small school.
Hervey is another possible solution to the potential departure of Tolliver and Ennis. On offense, Hervey has scoring ability off-the-move in the low-post and can hit from the field. He averaged 20.5 points-per-game in his senior season at UT-Arlington.
The 6-foot-7 forward said his flexibility translates to both sides of the ball and that he sees himself fitting in well with today’s NBA.
“I fit that mode,” Hervey said. “I’m a guy that can stretch the floor and knock down open jump shots, and I can also move my feet and guard multiple positions.”
Hervey, who said that he just realized he had a shot at cracking the league “a few months ago,” suffered two knee injuries in high school and college, and is not taking the opportunity for granted.
“(The injuries) taught me a lot of life lessons. It taught me how to fight through adversity, it taught me patience, it taught me discipline. It taught me how to be appreciative of life,” Hervey said.
“I embrace the long travel, the fatigue, and all that stuff. I’m blessed to have this opportunity so I’m going to take advantage of every moment.”
Also working out for the Pistons was Texas A&M forward DJ Hogg, Wake Forest center Doral Moore and North Carolina forward Theo Pinson.
Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer