Cade Cunningham rookie diary: ‘I’m the kind of person that every day is going to get better’
The No. 1 pick in the 2021 NBA draft missed Detroit’s first four games but has started settling in and flashing his potential
The Undefeated has previously had 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 NBA season features a season-long 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 2-year-old daughter.
The former Oklahoma State star’s NBA debut was delayed by a left ankle sprain until Oct. 30, when he scored two points in 19 minutes against the Orlando Magic. The 6-foot-8, 220-pounder entered Tuesday averaging 14.1 points, 6.4 rebounds and 4.6 assists for the 4-12 Pistons.
After a slow start to his career, Cunningham knocked off the rust and had a breakthrough contest on Nov. 15 against the Kings, scoring a season-high 25 points to go along with eight rebounds and eight assists.
The following is Cunningham’s second diary entry with The Undefeated.
‘Everything is starting to come together slowly but surely’
I didn’t pay too much attention to what was being said after I had a slow start. I wasn’t going to let it beat me up or change my way of thinking. But I definitely knew what was being said, and I tried to move accordingly. I feel like somebody would be a liar if they said they didn’t know what was being spoken of them. But at the same time, I’m not basing how I think off these other people’s opinions from the outside. I’m the kind of person that every day is going to get better, and I think that’s why I had a quick turnaround.
A lot of people were trying to say I was a bust. I thought that was pretty funny in my eyes. That’s something I took note of. Like: ‘All right. Well, we’ll have to see about it.’ That caught my eye. I wasn’t doing no tripping. I’m not going to say I respected that, but I definitely heard it.
I remember everything I was being told leading up to the [Pistons’] season opener [Oct. 20] that I wouldn’t be playing in the season opener. My ankle was getting better, but I knew at the time that I wasn’t ready to get out there yet. It was tough. I wanted to be out there for the first game, but I had to listen to my body and the medical staff.
I was able to watch a game from a different lens when I was sitting out. I feel like I learned a lot about the team, what Coach is trying to get going, the system that he wants us running. And being on the sideline with the coaches, I watched the games from the coaches’ point of view. I learned a lot more about what they want the team to look like, and I feel like it helped me whenever I got on the court to relay that message to the rest of the squad.
When I got cleared to play, I was excited. I was anxious to get out there and hoop again. My first game, it was really just more fun than anything to be able to get back out there and hoop at that level. Being in the NBA was always a dream of mine. The game didn’t go how I originally thought it would, or dreamed of it going. But nonetheless, it was fun for sure. I kept the jersey. I’m going to get that framed. Give that to my parents, and they will have that memory forever.
I’m just taking this season one day at a time. Trying to be consistent in my approach as far as getting better and trying to help the team. And I feel like just taking one day at a time, not thinking too far ahead, one game at a time, at any given game, you can get a win. If we go play hard and play together, we should be fine. I’m getting better and getting more and more comfortable with my teammates. My coaches and everybody’s getting more and more comfortable with me at the same time. Everything is starting to come together slowly but surely, and I’m having a lot of fun playing.
It’s been crazy being in that moment playing against NBA stars you have been watching for years. It’s also fun knowing that I’m on these courts with superstars and I’m able to really put my ability to the test and show everybody what I got. I look at it as more of an opportunity to show people something. [Brooklyn Nets stars] Kevin Durant and James Harden told me to ‘just keep working.’ [Philadelphia 76ers star] Joel Embiid told me I had a good game. People like my game.
‘So what does a Cade Thanksgiving plate look like?’
I went to prep school at Montverde Academy [Florida], so I’ve been gone for the holidays before. I’ll be all right during Thanksgiving in Los Angeles, but it’s another one I wish I could be with my fam. But we’ll find a way to make something work. I’m not really sure right now if they’re going to be in LA. We’re still trying to figure that out. Thanksgiving is a little different now that I changed up my diet a little bit as a vegan. But usually, Thanksgiving is a lot of fun for me. It’s good to spend time with the fam. It’s a good time of the year to not do too much and get to chill out a little bit.
So what does a Cade Thanksgiving plate look like? I like all the regular sides. I go crazy on sides. Now, I try to figure out some vegan options with burgers and stuff like that. But before becoming a vegan, I was on all the regular stuff. The last two Thanksgivings I had regular meals. So, this is going to be the first time I really have a true Thanksgiving dinner as a vegan. I’ll let you know how it goes.
I started trying to be a vegan going into my last summer of high school and my last AAU year. I just wanted to learn more about it. Then I ended up trying because I heard of all the health benefits. And at the same time, I started playing great. Was MVP of the first EYBL session [AAU], and from then on, I was feeling great about my body and where I was. So, I just continued it.
‘I know now I need layers. It can’t just be one hoodie. It has to be layers on.’
The Pistons’ winter coat drive was supercool [on Nov. 16]. I got to donate coats to kids out here in Detroit with the help of UnitedHealthcare. To do something like that was supercool. It was my first time being able to do something for Detroit in the city. It was cool to get out there in the community. Just seeing the love from all the kids and how much the coats meant to a lot of them, it also meant a lot to me to do something for them like that. I also got to get my winter coat game right. I know now I need layers. It can’t just be one hoodie. It has to be layers on. So, I’m catching on.
We went to the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis during the preseason [Oct. 11]. That was real cool to see such a historical spot. I’ve heard about it so many times, and I finally got a chance to go. To be in the place where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated was surreal to me. Seeing the two hotel rooms that King and his people used, how it was still kept together the same way, just seeing that this is the real room where everything went down, that was the coolest part for me. It was fun being able to go through that museum and learn something new.