Las Vegas — In his first day with the Pistons at NBA Summer League, Matt McQuaid didn’t see many familiar faces. It was a stark contrast to last season at Michigan State, where he was a senior captain.
Now he starts all over as a pro.
The one guy he recognized was former MSU teammate Matt Costello.
Things have a way of repeating themselves. This time, it’s with the Pistons, where Costello is looking to show that he can stick on an NBA roster and McQuaid is just looking to open some eyes.
“He’s had a really good career for himself since he left college," McQuaid said of Costello. "And it’s like I’m a freshman again, and he’s taking me under his wing again, teaching me some things. From managing money to things on the court, he’s always helping me out.”
In an unforgiving environment where most players are trying to one up each other just to get a shot, Costello again is mentoring McQuaid and hoping to make the transition easier.
It’s not that Costello, 25, is an expert on NBA transition, having played just four games with the Spurs in 2017-18. He spent last season playing with Sidigas Avellino in the top pro league in Italy, but a foot injury limited his playing time.
Costello has been rehabbing at Michigan State and is looking to make the most of the opportunity in summer league, where he’ll bring his 6-foot-10 frame and be one of the most experienced big men on the Pistons’ roster.
Every little bit helps McQuaid, though.
“I’ve talked to him about it quite a bit, since the end of his season,” Costello said. “Just to talk to him and say that you’re never going to know what the next step is. Even if you get a guaranteed contract, you’ve seen a bunch of high-guarantee guys get traded.
“You never know where you’re going to be and who you’re going to play for. You just have to come in and play your best every single day, play confidently and do what you can do. It’s taken me about three years to learn that. So, I hope he learns a little faster because it's scary. I mean, if you don't know what you’re going to do or where you’re going to be, it’s tough.”
Their shared bonds as former Spartans — with Costello getting a trip to the Final Four in 2015 and McQuaid in 2019 — can make for swapping good stories, but Costello is looking for more than that. After a couple of stints in the G-League, including a championship with the Austin Spurs in 2018, he’s looking to take the next step and make a roster.
Making the Pistons' roster would be special for Costello, who was Michigan’s Mr. Basketball in 2012 at Bay City Western and is the all-time leader in blocks at Michigan State.
“I grew up a Pistons fan. I would go play anywhere — but I grew a Pistons fan,” Costello said. “That’s when I started watching, in the 2004 championship run. Tayshaun Prince was actually my favorite player.
“But oh, my gosh — just to be able to put this (Pistons) stuff on, take pictures and send it to my family, I can say, ‘Hey, I’m kind of there — not all the way — but it’s a cool opportunity.’”
It’s a similar sentiment for McQuaid, who grew up in Texas, but got to pursue his dreams at Michigan State and wants to continue wherever he can latch on in the NBA or even overseas.
“It’s just a great opportunity and to do it playing at MSU and to play for an organization like this in summer league is just a great opportunity,” McQuaid said.
“(I’ve learned) a lot of different techniques and offensive motions and trying to put it all together. It’s a new group of guys and I’m used to just playing with the same guys for four years and now you have a whole new group of guys.”
Costello remains invested in basketball and he and his wife, Anna, aren’t ready to throw the towel in, even if he doesn’t make an NBA roster this year. He’s worked hard to get to this point, but opportunities often pop up at the most unexpected times.
Costello's dream is to play basketball and he’s not ready to join the regular workforce yet.
"I tell my family that I would get a job, but I’m always going to be around basketball," he said. "I don’t care if I’m done playing. I’ll go play at the Y or four church leagues — I just love playing basketball.
“Basketball is never going to quit. For me, it’s just moving around stuff and getting more settled.”
What has helped in Costello's transition to playing overseas in Italy is having Anna with him as a support and foundation, which is one of the hardest parts about not playing stateside.
“It’s tough. Honestly, I don’t know how some guys do it, if you don't have a wife or girlfriend with you or someone who cares about you and is with you all the time,” Costello said. “I had probably a month where my wife didn’t come over … I couldn’t do that.
“When she’s there, you make it fun. You travel, get out. She gets you out the house because she gets bored. It makes the experience better with somebody there.”
The proving ground starts on Friday, as the Pistons take on the Croatia National Team.