Mejia Makes His Mark

As the starters and a few other veterans were joking and casually shooting free throws toward the end of Sunday's practice, Pistons rookie guard Sammy Mejia was still at it with assistant coach Dave Cowens. A jumper. Another jumper. A move with his back to the basket. A drive from the left side of the lane.

The 6-foot-6 Mejia even took a couple stabs at a running hook shot. There would be nobody better to learn it from than Cowens, who crafted an effective one during his Hall of Fame career.

Mejia, 24, listened intently, his face and body language a model of concentration. If there is a guidebook for making an NBA team as a second-round draft pick – especially a team that has already committed to a pair of rookies and a win-now mentality – Mejia has read his cover to cover. Since his surprising selection in June, he has worked to put himself in a favorable position.

First-round choices Rodney Stuckey and Arron Afflalo have generated more buzz and will have a greater impact on the Pistons in 2007-08. But with the Pistons' final roster to be announced shortly, Mejia, the 57th overall pick, appears to be in the mix as well. He won't make it based on his preseason stats (he hardly played), just persistence and the knowledge nothing could be taken for granted.

"I always feel I can do better," Mejia said. "I don't think I had a bad training camp, I've done a lot of things well. Obviously there's a lot of things I need to work on, as well as every other player in this league."

Mejia had a solid career at DePaul, averaging 12.1 points, 4.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists in 123 games. His selection after the Pistons had already drafted two guards drew quizzical looks at the time, but his demeanor and 6-foot-6, 200-pound frame made him a safe choice. Pistons head coach Flip Saunders said an ankle injury made it tough to full evaluate Mejia in training camp, "but he's a pretty smart player and he shoots ball pretty well. Those are his main strengths."

On a roster full of smart players who can shoot well, however, Mejia doesn't help Saunders fill an obvious need, making minutes hard to come by. He averaged only 9.0 minutes per game in the preseason, appearing in six of the team's eight games. Mejia said the reduced playing time has been his toughest adjustment.

"Coming from high school and college, they put you right out there pretty much. You played such a major part of whatever school you went to and you do a lot for that team," the Bronx, New York, native said. "At this level, everyone's as good as you if not better and you understand you have to find a niche, how you're going to fit into this team and do something that's going to make this team better."

Finding a niche will involve a lot of late practice sessions with Cowens and the other assistant coaches. Improving his offensive efficiency is Mejia's focus after shooting 4-of-17 from the floor in the preseason. "You've got to take advantage of the few opportunities that you get. You're not going to get a lot of open shots, and when you do they expect you to make them," he said. "Understanding that and being able to capitalize on those things are what make you a good player in this league."

"This league" is where Mejia would like to stay, though a stint or two with the team's Developmental League affiliate in Fort Wayne is a possibility. While Mejia wouldn't mind extended playing time, he's looking forward to spending a lot of his first NBA season with the Pistons.

"I'm happy to be here and trying to stay up here as long as I can," he said. "If they feel like the best way I can help this organization is to go down there for a couple weeks, months, then that's what I'm going to do. I'm all about helping this team win and trying to get better so I can help the team win. That's the ultimate goal."


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