The Motor City Cruise are officially the hottest (basketball) team in Detroit. Head coach Jamelle McMillan is off to an ideal start as a head coach, not only winning games but developing his own culture.
The Cruise (2-0) defeated the Grand Rapids Gold in their first game Sunday and followed with a victory in the team’s home opener against the Iowa Wolves on Tuesday.
Against the Wolves, McMillan’s group fell behind after a second quarter run, then flipped the script. Literally. In the second quarter against the Wolves, the Cruise were outscored 39-21. In the third, they outscored the Wolves 39-21.
After the team’s first win in Grand Rapids, McMillan coined the victory as an identity win. On Tuesday, he looked back on his guy’s resolve to describe the second win.
“This dates back to Summer League,” McMillan said. “In our last game down 20 (Jared Rhoden) comes in and gives us a spark, beating his chest and we respond. And today, 39-21 in the second quarter, we respond with 39-21 in the third quarter. That’s us. Rising to the challenge and applying pressure on both ends of the basketball floor.”
When not active with the Pistons, two-way players Stanley Umude, Malcolm Cazalon, and Rhoden look to work high usage minutes with the Cruise.
Rhoden scored 36 points and grabbed eight rebounds in the first game, with 26 of those points coming in the first half.
“That was a great start for him. As he continues to progress through this process, he has become to be trusted on the offensive floor,” McMillan said of Rhoden’s performance. “I think he has really taken this to heart. He was efficient on the offensive end. Defensively, he was able to move around (matchup wise). He did a lot of good things for us. As long as he puts pressure on the offensive floor, he is a great basketball player.”
Zavier Simpson is the floor general for the Cruise. Before the season, General Manager Ben Carloni pointed toward the University of Michigan product as a player who raises the team’s floor. On Tuesday, he had five steals along with 21 points and seven assists to slow the game down when his team needed it most.
“Just being a point guard. Whether that’s in film, whether that’s in practice, whether that’s in games,” Simpson said of his season thus far. “Just having energy, making sure guys are locked in. Being that voice of the team.”
Alongside him, the Cruise have ample floor spacers and players who can work down low. Buddy Boeheim provided a spark off the bench Tuesday adding 17 points, most of which came during a third quarter run of his own that powered the Cruise offense.
Jontay Porter is the primary presence down low, recording a double-double in each of his first two games. Prior to the season, he mentioned a focus on playing good basketball while maintaining his health, as he has fought through injury battles in the past.
“I’m feeling great, better than ever really,” Porter said after scoring 21 points and grabbing 13 boards against the Wolves. “That’s saying a lot considering all the stuff I’ve had done to my knees. Playing a lot of minutes and I’m going to have a lot of games to play this year. Hopefully, knock on wood, stay healthy and impact winning the best I can.”
He’s a silent assassin, letting his play do the talking on the court. When it got chippy against Iowa, he remained a calming presence on the floor, staying quiet and playing the game. With his demeanor and style of play, Porter mentioned that there likely won’t be many, if any, technical fouls called against him this year.
Tosan Evbuomwan has impressed in the early season. He’s a first-year player out of Princeton who signed an Exhibit 10 contract with the Pistons after signing with the team as an undrafted free agent this past summer. He played a point-forward, or maybe even point-center, role at Princeton. With the Cruise, that role changes. He gets out in transition quickly and moves well both on and off-the-ball. He can be a stretch wing that can shoot, play defense, and even catch lobs, which any team covets.
Now, the Cruise established their identity. It’s time to build off it.
They will be back in Grand Rapids Saturday for another road game against the Gold. After two additional road contests, the Cruise are back in the Motor City against the Cleveland Charge Nov. 24.