AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) — Michael Gbinije has already enjoyed his share of excitement in 2016. He played in the Final Four for Syracuse, and now he’s been drafted by the Detroit Pistons.
Later this summer, he’s hoping to add the Olympics to that list of memorable experiences.
“Definitely looking forward to it,” said Gbinije, who last year helped the Nigerian national team qualify for the Rio Games. “Right now it’s not 100 percent known if I’m going to do it or not, but I want to do it. Probably will start after summer league in Orlando.”
Gbinije spoke somewhat cautiously about his Olympic plans after he was drafted by the Pistons in the second round Thursday night, but Detroit general manager Jeff Bower says the team is supportive of his hopes to play in Rio. Gbinije was born in Hartford, Connecticut, but his father, Frank, is a native of Nigeria.
Gbinije said he wants to make sure he takes care of his responsibilities with the Pistons, and he’ll try to fit the Olympic team around that. Bower said the Pistons would certainly be amenable to him playing for Nigeria.
“It’s something that we would support and try to help with,” Bower said. “Our immediate concern would be having the participation during summer league, and when that ends, being able to transition right into the Olympics would be a great summer of basketball for him.”
The Pistons have a team in the Orlando summer league, which runs from July 2-8, so it may just be a question of whether Gbinije’s international duties can wait until after that.
“That would be our hope, but we understand the importance of it all, and so we’ll get into communications and see what the timelines are,” Bower said.
At 6-foot-7, Gbinije has the type of versatility that intrigues the Pistons. Detroit didn’t really address its need for a backup point guard in the draft, but Gbinije’s ball-handling could be an asset.
He also improved his 3-point shooting from 35 percent as a sophomore to 39 percent as a junior and senior.
“He’s a good player with a unique skill set,” assistant GM Brian Wright said. “If you look at the way the game’s being played, you watch the playoffs, there’s guys playing multiple positions, you’re switching, you’re doing different things, and I think he brings that for us. ... I think the NBA is moving more to positionless players, and just skill sets.”
Gbinije played sparingly at Duke as a freshman, and after transferring to Syracuse, he averaged only 3.4 points a game in 2013-14. In his last two seasons, he finally became a standout — especially as a senior, when he averaged 17.5 points and helped the Orange to an unexpected Final Four appearance.
“I didn’t really see the floor much my freshman year. I had a lot of growing up to do on and off the court,” Gbinije said. “I made the decision to transfer, and it was probably one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life so far.”
If Gbinije plays in the Olympics and Nigeria faces the U.S. at some point, the 24-year-old guard would be up against both of his college coaches. Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski coaches the Americans, and Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim is an assistant.
“I was fortunate enough to play for two college Hall of Famers, and two USA coaches as well. You learn a lot playing under them,” Gbinije said. “Coach K definitely installed professionalism, and Boeheim brought some mental toughness to me.”
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