Cade Cunningham rookie diary: ‘I’m just feeling more comfortable seeing defenses each and every night’
The No. 1 pick in the NBA draft reflects on his time in quarantine, the Pistons’ growing chemistry and the chance to participate in All-Star Weekend
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 3-year-old daughter.
The former Oklahoma State star spoke with The Undefeated for his fourth diary entry on Tuesday morning from the Pistons’ hotel in San Francisco hours before playing the Warriors.
After missing the start of the season due to an ankle injury, Cunningham looks like the NBA Rookie of the Year candidate he was projected to be, as he’s averaging 15.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game. The avid Dallas Cowboys fan also recently returned to action after getting COVID-19 and spending time in the NBA’s health and safety protocols.
‘Now that i’m back, maybe it was better to decompress and get my mind back right’
I took a COVID test in the morning [Dec. 22, 2021], and then they texted me and said it was positive. It was tough. We were away. I was in Miami, so I didn’t feel like quarantining in a hotel for 10 days. I was in the heat of the season, and to sit out … I didn’t feel like doing it, but at the same time, now that I’m back, maybe it was better to decompress and get my mind back right. So, God works in mysterious ways. It turned out to be like seven days or something like that. I got two negatives pretty early.
While I was quarantining, I was just watching basketball, watching Netflix. Regular stuff just to waste time. I was on Ozark. I had started and finished the first three seasons and now I’m waiting on a new season to come out right now. I had not watched any of it before then. It’s big time. I’m ready for this fourth season to see where their lives are about to go. It looks like it could go two different ways. The cartel dude just really welcomed him in. We’re going to see.
So, after my first negative test, I was able to get some equipment and stuff … I was just able to get a bike that our strength coach left for me, and some other little stuff that I used in my weight room. I was doing that for about two days before I was able to get back in the gym.
I remember there were a lot of things that I feel like I had worked a long time to reach, like my senior year making the national championship game with Montverde [Academy] and the McDonald’s All American game. The list goes on, but that’s just my circumstances. I know there’s people all over the place that have missed out on way worse things than me. It definitely sucks having to go through a pandemic like that, but we’re all living through it together. We’re all going through it. So, it’s just finding ways to still get the job done.
‘I knew that when he got injured there was going to be a gap that had to get filled’
I’m growing into the system that we have. The chemistry is getting better with me and my teammates, and my coaches trust me more and more. I’m just feeling more comfortable seeing more defenses each and every night. I’m watching the game and just seeing ways I can apply it to when I’m playing. So, just over time, just me getting better, me seeing more things and growing in confidence.
Jerami Grant is a huge part of our team, so I knew that when he got injured there was going to be a gap that had to get filled. And I knew that the team was going to look to me and a lot of those moments to step in and make plays. So, I was sad to see him go to an injury like that, but, at the same time, I knew I was going to have to step up, and take pride in that position. So, I’m having fun hooping. I just sat through an [ankle] injury. I hate it, sitting back watching the game. So, the earlier that he could get healthy and get back to doing what he loves to do, the better.
Detroit has showed me a lot of love once I first got there. I kind of do my same thing. I haven’t really been out to see too much. I feel like my rookie year, there’s so many things going on. I just kind of locked in. But I’m sure, once I really get to feel the city out some more, I’ll feel that love even more than what I do now. But they show me love every chance they can. I feel like I’ve definitely earned other NBA players’ respect for sure. But, I was the No. 1 pick, so guys are kind of aware of where I’m at on the court and at least respect that. And then my play will take care of the rest.
I did get ejected from my first game over the weekend for taunting [against the Phoenix Suns]. What happened was, I had my people right behind the [Pistons] bench. I went baseline to dunk the ball and [Jalen Smith’s] right in between me and my people, so I probably should’ve read that situation better. I don’t really get into taunting too much. Usually, I’m chilling after a play happens or whatever. I realized the situation after he tech’d me up, but obviously, I didn’t think I was going to get a tech.
I’ve seen the Rising Stars game throughout the years during NBA All-Star Weekend. I definitely want to play in it. But, right now, I’m not really thinking too much about All-Star break. That stuff will come when it comes. It is a big-time game. A lot of big-time talent in that game. So, it would definitely be a privilege to be in that game.
I’m still a Dallas Cowboys fan for life, but I’m disappointed about how we ended the season. I’m just going to be sad until kickoff next season.
My little girl, Riley, just turned 3. So that’s crazy. It’s big for us. It’s crazy that she’s growing so fast. That was a big moment that just happened. I talked to her on the phone on her birthday [last month], but we just celebrated it at the house [in Detroit] this last home stretch we had. We combined the Christmas and the birthday.
I helped celebrate the one back home, but it was good, man. I got her all types of stuff. I just moved in, so now she got all her toys for the crib now. So, whenever she comes to my house, she’s straight. There’s so many different characters and stuff. She got everything. This is probably the most sass she’s ever had in her life. But she’s still a superkind kid. She wants to compliment other people and say, ‘Thank you,’ and apologize. She’s fun to be around, so she’s just growing into herself more and more, which is fun to see.
With MLK Day just passing, it caused me to reflect on all that I learned from the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. They show a whole lot more than just talking about the day that King died and where he was at the moment. They talked about the slave trade. They went superfar back, so I learned a lot from that and just his impact on the world today.
I wasn’t around when he was doing things he was doing, but the things that he was talking about, things that he was working for, are things that changed my life. So, he was superimpactful on all people of color and just America in general. So, superthankful for him, and I’m glad we have a day that we can celebrate him.