Auburn Hills — You’re an NBA rookie in town for a few days. You haven’t had a whole lot of time since getting to learn about your new surroundings. So what do you do with your free time?
Hit the mall and play “Fortnite” like any other 20-something would, of course.
“They gave us a rental car to get something to eat, go to movie,” said Khyri Thomas, the 38th overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, who was traded from the 76ers to Pistons for a pair of future second-round draft picks. “I went to the mall, looking for Chick-fil-A.”
“I didn’t mean to go there,” the Creighton product joked. The navigation took me.”
Thomas and fellow 2018 pick Bruce Brown, a fellow guard who was taken by the Pistons 42nd overall out of Miami (Fla.), have been in Metro Detroit since Monday to get to know their new team a bit before heading west in about 10 days for summer league play in Las Vegas.
During the day, they’ve worked on basketball activities and learning the terminology of new head coach Dwane Casey. They’ve spoken with Casey but won’t meet him until arriving in Vegas.
At night, it’s relaxing, and video games.
“Me and Kyrie spent a couple days together,” Brown said. “We’re trying to get to know each other really well. Play a lot of ‘Fortnite’ when we’re at the hotel.”
Although in some ways they’ll be competing to break into the rotation as a pair of rookies who were both drafted to play defense and bring much-needed help on the wings, they’re also going to be each other’s support system as they learn the ropes of being part of the league.
“It is another way for both of us to push each other,” said Thomas, a two-time Big East Defensive Player of the Year. “I feel like we’re going to compete throughout practice a lot throughout the year. Not only that but also encouraging each other to do whatever our assignment is.”
Both were asked whether it’s hit them yet that they’re in the NBA. Yes. Sorta. But not entirely.
“I still have a lot to prove to be an official NBA player or someone actually looked at or talked about,” Thomas said. “I’m just another rookie right now.”
Meanwhile Brown — who sometimes realizes “I’m really a Detroit Piston” — is just excited to get out on the court and play some five-on-five basketball. He’s only been able to play two-on-two or three-on-three since his injury.
Brown’s college sophomore year ended prematurely when he experienced foot pain during practice. He underwent surgery, and his No. 6-seed Hurricanes were bounced by No. 11-seed Loyola in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
He finished his career averaging 11.7 points, 7.1 rebounds and 2.5 assists and may prove to be more of a point guard in the NBA.
“I can’t wait,” Brown said. “I haven’t played five-on-five since January. So I can’t wait to get out there and prove myself.”
When summer league opens next week, Brown said he’ll bring as much energy as he can and defend the best guard on the court.
He added he’ll need to work specifically on shooting off the dribble and ball-handling.
“Really, my overall game,” he said. “But mostly shooting.”
For Thomas, it’s just adapting to the differences of the NBA, namely the speed.
“Here, it’s just all about your instincts, your reaction, your talent, and how much time you put in the gym,” he said.
Thomas said he’s adjusting well to the farther 3-point line distance of the NBA. He shot 40.6 percent with Creighton in his career, taking 131 shots, and is expected to bring a bit of that long-range talent to the court. He averaged 15.1 points in his final season.
“First it was a little tough, but I think everyone just kind of adjusts the same way,” Thomas said. “It’s all about reps and being comfortable. The more reps, the more comfortable you’ll be.”
Getting comfortable — both on and off the court — is the challenge Thomas and Brown have began tackling this week and will be throughout the year.
A little Chick-fil-A and “Fortnite” couldn’t hurt with that.
Kurt Mensching is a freelance writer.