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Singler part of Detroit rebirth

On Sports


The phone call arrived from Alcatraz (Alcatraz?). The occasion: an off-day excursion for members of the Detroit Pistons, including Kyle Singler, the rookie from South Medford High.

“We’re actually on the boat riding back (to the San Francisco Bay wharf), looking at the prison,” Singler said, with the hoots and hollers of teammates sounding in the background. “Rodney Stuckey, Jose Calderon, Charlie Villanueva, all the rookies — just something to do together.

“First time I’ve been out here. It’s a really cool thing.”

Such is life in the NBA for the 6-8, 230-pound Singler, who visits the Rose Garden Saturday night to face the Trail Blazers in the first in-state appearance of his pro career.

Some cool things have happened for Singler with the Pistons. Also some not-so-cool things, the not-so-coolest thing being Detroit’s sorry 23-43 record going into Wednesday’s visit to Golden State. The Pistons had lost six in a row and nine out of 10 and, as Singler puts it diplomatically, “we’ve not been playing all that well.”

Losing is something new for Singler, who led the Panthers to the Class 6A championship over Lake Oswego High and Kevin Love as a senior in 2007, then was most valuable player of the Final Four as Duke won the NCAA title as a junior in 2010.

While Detroit hasn’t been a prison sentence, it’s not been a day at the beach for Singler, who nevertheless isn’t complaining.

“It’s been a great place to play,” says the older brother of Oregon standout E.J. Singler and the son of ex-Oregon State quarterback Ed Singler. “The arena (Palace of Auburn Hills) is nice. You have to win for fans to come out and support you big-time. But we do have dedicated fans who support us through thick and thin.

“Our season so far has been ups and downs — mostly downs.”

One of the “ups” has been the performance of Singler, who earned a starting spot at shooting guard the first month when Stuckey went down to injury, then moved over to small forward when the Pistons sent Tayshaun Prince to Toronto for Calderon.

Singler ranks among the NBA’s top 10 rookies in nearly every statistical category, including scoring (8.7, eighth), rebounds (3.9, 10th), field-goal percentage (.430, ninth), 3-point percentage (.366, fourth), free-throw percentage (.810, fourth) and minutes (28.1, fourth).

“It’s gone pretty well,” says Singler, 24. “I really didn’t know what to expect. As a rookie, you want to try to help the team as much as possible, to be a positive influence on the team. I’ve done a decent job of that.”

The 33rd pick of the 2011 NBA draft after serving four years as a starter at Duke, Singler played for two teams — Lucentum Alicante and Real Madrid — in Spain last season.

“It was 100 percent due to the (NBA) lockout,” Singler says. “I didn’t want to wait around that summer. I wanted to play, and my agent was able to sign me to deals that got me about 70 games total.”

Singler played about 50 of those games with Real Madrid, which won the coveted midseason Spanish King’s Cup, then lost 3-2 in the league finals to Barcelona.

“It was a great experience,” he says. “I was out of my comfort zone, being in a different country with the language barrier and cultural differences. For basketball, it was really good — competitive, with really good players over there, and I got to play a lot. I improved as a player, and that’s what I wanted.”

Singler has been a role player even as a starter for Detroit thus far, but he is seeing more court time than every rookie except Portland’s Damian Lillard, Washington’s Bradley Beal and Cleveland’s Dion Waiters.

“I’m real happy that I’ve been able to step in and start and get a lot of minutes,” Singler says. “As a rookie, you can’t ask for more.”

Good thing, in a way, that the Pistons’ season will end April 17 with no playoff run. It means he will be in Medford on Mother’s Day Weekend for the fifth annual Kyle Singler Open, a basketball clinic run in conjunction with the Chad Cota-Kyle Singler auction and the E.J. Singler Skills Challenge. The event benefits Kids Unlimited, a non-profit children’s program in Medford.

“We’ve raised as much as $100,000 through the auction,” Kyle says. “I’ve formed a good relationship with the director, and I can see the benefit kids could have from what he does and promotes. It’s a chance to change a lot of kids’ lives. That’s why I do it.”

The Pistons’ foundation is mostly young, with Singler, big men Greg Monroe (22) and Andre Drummond (19) and point guard Brandon Knight (21).

“We have young pieces with talent,” Singler says. “Our future is bright. We haven’t had a full team throughout the whole year. We’ve had some injuries, especially toward the end of the year. I’m really hopeful we’re moving in the right direction.”

There is much work to be done in Detroit, the NBA’s version of Alcatraz. Regardless, Singler — one of the best kids ever out of this state in terms of a combination of talent and character — has proved this year that he’ll have a spot in the league for years to come.

kerryeggers@portlandtribune.com

Twitter: @kerryeggers