Cleveland — Pistons rookie Sekou Doumbouya sat at his stall, peering around the locker room, seemingly surprised that he had free space around him. He stood up, faced his locker and started to get dressed more rapidly, only to turn around and see the scrum of reporters had migrated quickly to him.
“Tous les jours,” a reporter reminded him.
“Tous les jours,” he responded, with a smile.
Since he joined the Pistons starting lineup, Doumbouya has talked to the media every day.
Doumbouya wasn’t going to be able to scoot out of the locker room at in Cleveland unnoticed — not on this day. Not on the day that he made sportscasters around the world cringe and practice the pronunciation of his name (Say-koo Doom-boo-yuh) repeatedly in describing his iconic introductory dunk over Tristan Thompson.
Not on the day that he scored in double figures for the fourth straight game and gave the Pistons an immediate flourish of hope for the future. Doumbouya was the youngest player in the draft and just turned 19 last month but assigning him with matching up with the gauntlet of Kawhi Leonard, Draymond Green, LeBron James and Kevin Love, respectively, isn’t for the faint of heart.
Coach Dwane Casey didn’t want to throw too much at Doumbouya too soon, but the injury and subsequent surgery for Blake Griffin sped up the indoctrination process.
“What do they say in the Baptist church when you get baptized? ‘Hallelujah.’ ” Casey said this week. “OK, so go ahead, put him in the water. He's in the water and he's getting baptized with three of the top players in our league, Draymond and Kawhi and James, so he's seeing the best he's going to see right now.”
It’s bound to get easier for Doumbouya, a 6-foot-9 prodigy who was born in Guinea and played in the pro leagues in France before being drafted 15th overall by the Pistons in June. He didn’t know much English when he arrived but just like his game has sharpened, so have his language skills.
“It was a good to win two games on the road and then go back home,” Doumbouya said. “I'm just happy to be on the team.”
When in doubt, keep it simple.
Doumbouya has tried to do that but going from being a G-League regular to guarding some of the best players in the world is a wide chasm. He’s held his own, posting 13 points, seven rebounds and shooting 31 percent on 3-pointers in his first four starts.
The rookie has shown that he can hit from outside, with four 3-pointers against the Warriors, and that he can drive the lane and finish, as he did against Thompson. Casey has tried to keep things in bite-size morsels, but with each performance, the level of expectation seems to increase because of Doumbouya’s production and the glimpse of possibility with his big frame.
“I knew he was too young and inexperienced to be afraid or excited or whatever the word is, but you know that's something he brings: his body,” Casey said. “There's a lot of other little things to learn of the NBA but his body physicality he gives without fouling and I thought the three quick fouls was true testament of his experience.
“Those things, he will learn. That's the good thing about teaching — we all want it to happen overnight. It's a one-year or two-year project to get guys at the level you need to beat a team like (the Clippers).”
Le slam dunk
Doumbouya could have remained in anonymity a bit longer, if not for the dunk over Thompson. Doumbouya faked and drove the lane and Thompson was looking to draw an offensive foul.
Wrong time. Wrong place.
Doumbouya rose and finished over Thompson — and the rookie drew a foul himself, sending the Pistons’ reserves into a frenzy on the bench in awe. Brown had seen Doumbouya dunk before, but this one was different.
“Oh, that's number one. He's never dunked on anyone in practice, but that's No. 1 — it's got to be,” Brown said. “Yeah, that was nice. It took everybody not by surprise, but it was definitely different.
“It was a surprise that he just did it like, if he told me before the game he would dunk on somebody, I could see it happening, but it was out of nowhere.”
The big play drew Casey’s ire because he said they weren’t focused and gave up an easy basket on the defensive end.
Fans loved it, setting social media ablaze with excitement.
Doumbouya, seemingly forever stoic, didn’t add much sauce in recounting the play, but with Brown’s help, he figured out it wasn’t the best dunk he’s ever executed.
“I was straight; I didn’t react — I don't scream. I just was just concentrating on the game,” he said. “Yeah, I got a better one overseas. (In the U.S.), for the moment, that's the best one. We'll see.”
He’ll have a new opportunity as long as he stays in the lineup.
Cavaliers at Pistons
Tip-off: 7 Thursday, Little Caesars Arena
Outlook: The Pistons (14-24) have won two of their last three, including a thrilling 115-113 win in Cleveland on Tuesday night. The Cavaliers have lost five straight and are 10-27 under first-year coach John Beilein.