There's no way around it: Andre Drummond is a gigantic human being. As he unfolds his 7-foot, 280-pound frame from a shuttle outside the Trump Hotel, a pair of fans braving the arctic chill of Toronto in hopes of catching sight of an NBA All-Star get their wish. He stops and takes a photo, signs an autograph. "I get recognized more than I used to," he says later. "It's cool."
Now in his fourth year in the league, the 22-year-old Drummond has become a building block for the Detroit Pistons under head coach and president of basketball operations Stan Van Gundy. After the team struggled to coalesce playing a supersized frontcourt lineup of Greg Monroe and Drummond with Josh Smith at small forward last year, they waived Smith, didn't re-sign Monroe and just acquired jack-of-all-trades Tobias Harris from the Orlando Magic, further cementing Drummond as the team's anchor in the post.
It's a role he's earned, especially after Drummond's blazing start to the season, which saw him average 20.3 points and 20.3 rebounds over the first six games of the season – the best start in those categories since Wilt Chamberlain's 1970 season. The Pistons opened 5-1, but after struggling with injuries they're currently 27-27, just outside of the playoff picture…for now.
We make our way to the hotel bar, which is nominally warmer – Trump's slogan should be "Make the lobby freezing again" – and we sit down to talk about being a bystander in perhaps the best NBA Slam Dunk Contest ever, his relationship with Van Gundy and getting the Pistons to the next level.
So that was some dunk contest –
Yeah, that was incredible. I knew what I was getting myself into. I'm cool with the guys that were in it, so knowing all the dunks they were doing, I was like, "This is gonna be one for the ages," and they showed out.
Was there a point where you were like, "I'm doomed"?
I knew. I think after we practiced that first day, I thought, "Yeah, this might not be for me." [laughs] I enjoyed myself – the experience was incredible. I was the first Piston to be in the dunk contest, so it was an incredible experience to get to be a part of a historic moment.
So the dunk with Steve Nash: you worked that out beforehand? It reminded me of the one he did with Amar'e Stoudemire.
Yeah, that's where I got it from. I came up with the idea probably a day or two ago and he was willing to do it. So he came out and it took him a couple tries, but we figured it out.
How old were you when that dunk happened?
What year was that? 2005? I was in middle school.
How's your first All-Star experience been?
It's been great. Just the reaction of the fans has been great. My family's excited, my friends are here, it's been incredible. It's a nice getaway from the season. I come every year, so I'm always glad to be here.
What are your thoughts on this being Kobe Bryant's last All-Star Game?
Kobe's done a lot for this league and everybody knows how hard he's worked. His resume speaks for itself. It's going to be sad to see him go, but I don't think his body could take much more.
So were you surprised by the way the Pistons started this season?
You know, we worked hard this summer. We cut our summer short and we took the time to really work with each other. We started building a bond and throughout preseason we looked pretty good, so when the season hit we were gelling right away.
Who would you say you're closest to on the team?
Stanley [Johnson]. I mean, Stanley and I have been close since we've been kids. But reconnecting with him as teammates has been great. We played against each other in high school. Little do you know, we were in the same class, too, I just came out a little bit earlier.
What's your relationship like with Stan Van Gundy?
We have a great relationship. He's just so hard on himself sometimes. That's the relationship we have: I've got to tell him to relax and everything will be all right. Like, he can't sleep some nights that we play bad. He loves the game.
You had a quadruple-overtime win against Chicago, which was insane. How exhausting is a game like that?
We were shot after that game. I remember it because after the first [overtime], we were like, "We've been here before, let's close this one out." And then another overtime. All right. My legs started getting tired. But then when your adrenaline is going so much, it's like, "We gotta win this one." So it came down to the wire again, another overtime. So now we're in the fourth one and then, I don't know, a burst of energy came out from all of us and we closed the game out.
Following the All-Star break, what do the Pistons have to do to get to that next level and make the playoffs?
You know, this break couldn't have come at a better time. I think we all needed time to just relax. I think we were really tense because we lost a few games and a lot of the guys are hurt, too. I think we just need to clear our heads and come back in, get back to where we're at.
What's the thing that gets you the most excited during a game?
Getting stops. Stopping my opponent from scoring, getting rebounds and dunking the basketball. Blocks. The defense feeds what happens on the other side of the basketball, absolutely. That's how it should be.