- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
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NEW ORLEANS -- After missing last season's Rising Stars Challenge because of a back injury, Andre Drummond felt he had two seasons' worth of production to make up for when he arrived for Friday's showcase game between the league's top young talents.
Consider that goal accomplished.
Setting a game record with 25 rebounds along with scoring 30 points, the Detroit Pistons' second-year center walked away as the Rising Stars most valuable player after leading Team Hill to a 142-136 victory against Team Webber at the Smoothie King Center.
Drummond dominated on both ends for most of the game -- with the exception being a stage in the second half when Tim Hardaway Jr. and Dion Waiters went one-on-one in a mesmerizing shootout. But for Drummond, the experience was a much-needed diversion from a turbulent season in Detroit.
"Yeah, you know, we've had a tough year so far," Drummond said of the underachieving Pistons, who fired coach Mo Cheeks earlier this month after just 50 games. "Tonight, having that time away, just being with my peers that I got drafted with, and being with some of the rookies, just showing them how hard you got to play to be in this game, I just tried to show them tonight."
In the process, Drummond also showed that it won't be long before he's playing in the NBA's marquee game of All-Star Weekend on Sunday. Already one of the most promising big men in the league, the 20-year-old Drummond is producing at an elite level this season.
He ranks second in the league in field goal percentage (61.1), third in rebounds (13.0) and eighth in blocks (1.87) for the Pistons, who entered the break having won five of their past eight games. Listed at 6-foot-10 and 270 pounds, Drummond has size that can be matched by few of the league's big men.
That was especially the case Friday night, when no one could keep him from camping out in the lane for dunks and rebounds. At one point early in the first half, Drummond had six consecutive dunks, with many of them coming on putbacks after he hauled in offensive rebounds.
After being forced to sit out of last year's game during All-Star Weekend, Drummond told reporters in Detroit that his goal was to grab 30 rebounds if he made it back this season. That number seemed a bit far-fetched -- until he starting corralling nearly every shot that came off the rim Friday.
"Missing the game last year was tough for me. I hated watching it, every second of it," Drummond said of last year's Rising Stars Challenge in Houston. "It was tough that I couldn't be out there. It was my mindset to come out and play with energy, like I had been all year. I had my mindset to win the MVP and win the game, and I went out there and did it."
Indiana Pacers assistant Nate McMillan, who coached Drummond's team Friday, said it was obvious from the outset that Drummond came in with a different level of focus than some players.
"Drummond had it in his mind that he was going to go out and play the game hard, and every board, every rebound that came off the board, he wanted," McMillan said. "A few of them he took from his teammates. One of the things I talked to the guys about was going out and playing the game the right way and forcing that [opposing] team to have to come out and play."
The only hard part for Drummond was having to sit back and watch Friday's game turn into the likes of an elite summer league game in New York's Rucker Park. There weren't many rebounds available when Hardaway Jr. and Waiters exchanged several incredible shots midway through the second half while defending one another and trading barbs along the way.
Hardaway Jr. finished with a game-high 36 points on 12-of-23 shooting from the field, and Waiters added 31 points on 10-of-14 shooting. Their one-on-one display brought several NBA stars out of their courtside seats and nearly pushed Drummond's dominance off to the side.
But when Hardaway Jr. and Waiters cooled, Drummond was there to finish with strong plays. His mission wouldn't be denied.
Drummond aimed to show he'll eventually work his way into Sunday's showcase.
"Every single day, I've got to get better to prove to myself that I'm able to play," he said. "I had the mindset this year of coming out here ... and showing the league that I could play in Sunday's game and that I'm able to hang with the big guys."
16hMarc Stein and Mike Mazzeo