Pistons players and equipment manager John Coumoundouros handed out new basketball shoes and backpacks full of gifts to the Detroit Denby girls team.
Rod Beard, The Detroit News

Detroit — Pistons equipment manager John Coumoundouros remembers the 2011 season well — what there was of it.

The NBA lockout lasted 161 days and the season didn’t start until Christmas Day. That meant 161 days of wondering and worrying for Coumoundouros, who wasn’t getting a paycheck during the lockout.

“Not too long ago, during the lockout year, I was barely getting food for my house and my kids and my power and gas were going out,” Coumoundouros said. “Getting that feeling when you use your debit card, wondering whether it was going to work this time. I was going through that a lot.

“Now, I’m fortunate enough to give back, so I want to do it in any way possible.”

That feeling of going without didn’t escape Coumoundouros — and when he heard about others in need, he jumped to find a way to help. A friend of his mother found out that the girls basketball team at Detroit Denby High School didn’t have shoes and other equipment as they prepare to start their season.

Coumoundouros quickly thought of a way to help. He enlisted the help of Pistons guard Langston Galloway, who is a shoe aficionado, and they put together a plan. They invited the entire Denby team to Friday’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers and presented them gift backpacks with new shoes, socks, towels and other gifts, before the game. 

“Originally, I said, let’s split the cost and get them shoes from Nike,” he said. “(Our rep) from Nike found out what was going on and he comped the shoes. I took the money I was going to use to buy the shoes with and got food vouchers for them.”

Coumoundouros enlisted Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond, Khyri Thomas and others to welcome the Denby girls, who sat in the front row in pregame and watched the Pistons warm up.

“It was cool,” junior Zanaija McIntyre. “Nobody ever invited me to any saidthing like this. It was a good feeling.”

The girls’ faces lit up with excitement as they got their gift bags, as Drummond and Thomas called each girl by name to present the bags. The bigger surprise was Griffin coming out to greet them personally.

“It was a true blessing,” Denby coach Bird Sullivan said. “When they reached out to me, it was a surreal feeling. Some of these girls have never had a real pair of basketball shoes.”

For Coumoundouros, it’s just a way of giving back to the Detroit community, with an additional basketball connection.

“That’s literally why we’re here,” he said. “I always get jealous of the players being able to do it so easily (for charity). I wanted to do like they do, so it feels good.”

Pelicans at Pistons

Tipoff: 3:30 Sunday, Little Caesars Arena, Detroit

TV/radio: FSD/97.1

Outlook: New Orleans forward Anthony Davis had a career-high nine assists to go along with his 27 points in a 132-106 victory over Dallas on Wednesday.