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Cade Cunningham Diary

Cade Cunningham rookie diary: ‘I was kind of pressing too hard, trying to get acclimated’

The No. 1 pick in the 2021 NBA draft reflects on the Pistons’ recent play, the holiday season and his daughter’s upcoming birthday

The Undefeated has previously produced NBA diaries with Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green, former NBA star and dunk champion Vince Carter, Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young, Warriors center James Wiseman, Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet, Sacramento Kings guard De’Aaron Fox and Detroit Pistons guard Josh Jackson. This season features a diary with Cade Cunningham, the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NBA draft by the Pistons.

Through the course of this diary, the 20-year-old will take the reader through the triumphs, challenges and fun that come with being the top pick on and off the court. Not only is the Arlington, Texas, native a potential NBA star, but he is also the father of a soon-to-be 3-year-old daughter.

The former Oklahoma State star spoke with The Undefeated for his third diary entry on Tuesday morning, two days before he became one of nearly 100 players to enter the NBA’s COVID protocols. Cunningham reflected on playing better of late – he’s averaging 17.9 points, 6.2 assists and 5.7 rebounds while shooting 40.4% from 3-point range in December – the holidays, his daughter’s upcoming birthday, and yes, COVID-19.

‘There’s no feeling like losing’

More than anything in terms of the key to my play now was, it was just time to let go. I haven’t been holding onto all the emotions of not playing as well as I did early on or just losing games. I just decided I was going to let it go and just play free. Play the game that I love. Try to have fun with it. That’s the main thing.

At first, I was kind of pressing too hard, trying to get acclimated. But now I’m comfortable. I’m in my groove now, so it’s all good. The breakthrough moment that I really needed was the Portland game. Just being able to feel that feeling of shooting the ball and you knowing that all of them were going in. Through most of this time, once I went to college, I had a really good feel on the ball. But, when I first got to the Pistons and got hurt, that feel was different for me. After that Portland game, I was able to knock down some shots, things like that. That was the turning point.

It’s tough, obviously, losing Jerami because he was a huge part of our team. I went to take that on my shoulders, and I knew that I’d have to step up. It’s a new role for me, but I’m excited to be in that role. That 14-game losing streak we just had was definitely different. It really tests you mentally more than anything, just being able to come back in the next day locked in and go back out there and try to win.

It was definitely tough, but we stuck together. We tried to keep our spirits high, we tried to come out and play hard every night. There’s no feeling like losing. We had that sour taste in our mouths for a while, so to get a win felt good. And now, it’s about building onto that.

The high amount of players getting COVID is definitely scary. You got to protect yourself from it. The new omicron variant, you see it in the league now. I’m not trying to miss any games. I just try to keep that mask on, know who I’m around and just be smart about when I move around and go outside in public.

We haven’t actually been bringing in new guys or anything like that to fill roster spots. We haven’t had any cases. I’ve been hearing about the [COVID-19] issues in Michigan. So, that’s just more reasons to keep the mask on, stay inside and know who you’re around.

I met Kevin Durant in high school, actually. We’ve been in contact since then. I talked to him through college. Being able to play against him recently was supercool. To have somebody like that as somebody that I can holler at is supercool. He told me, ‘More than anything, just keep working.’ He’s a real-life gym rat. A lot of times you hear, ‘Keep working.’ It’s almost like, ‘How are you?’ and people say, ‘Good.’

Everybody kind of says, ‘Keep working.’ But he is more serious about it and [it’s] why he has got to the point where he’s at. That’s just something that I’m trying to do and see that in my game.

‘She’s superyoung, but she’s pretty understanding’

We leave on Christmas Day to go to San Antonio and play the next day. My family was out in Detroit recently. After San Antonio, we go home for two days. I just have everybody come out there to Detroit to celebrate Christmas in early January when we have another home stretch.

I won’t see my daughter on Christmas because we will be flying, but I will FaceTime her. That is tough. I wish I was there for all of these early moments, holidays and things like that. I wish I could see the excitement on her face for her presents, and things like that. She’s superyoung, but she’s pretty understanding. She knows what’s going on. It just gives me extra motivation to know that I got to make these sacrifices now. But I’m doing it for what is best for the fam and to provide, more than anything.

I got my daughter a bunch of stuff online for Christmas. A bunch of dolls. Got her a little scooter. A pogo stick. I got all types of stuff for her around the crib. I just moved into my house in Detroit, so she didn’t really have anything to play with at my house. Now she’s going to be straight, for sure … I’m just excited for the holidays.

For real, man. This is one of my favorite times of the year, so I’m excited. My daughter’s birthday’s coming up. It’s right after Christmas, so we got a couple holidays back to back. It’ll be fun. It’s a good time. Dec. 29. I got to load her up. Got to do that.

I set goals for myself, for sure. All the time. I don’t just set them as a resolution on New Year’s. But I set new goals throughout the year and give them deadlines on when I need to accomplish some of the things like that. On the court, I just want to be better defensively and take care of the ball. Those two things will help me out a whole lot.

Then off-court, being a better teammate, better communicator as far as texting and calling, stuff like that. Then just being the best father I can be, best brother, best son.

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.