Detroit Pistons’ Cade Cunningham embraces the next stage of his basketball career

DETROIT — Being the first pick in the NBA draft brings with it a lot of expectations. As the No. 1 selection in this year’s NBA draft, Cade Cunningham knows them well, but he doesn’t feed them.

The 20-year-old is determined to stay true to himself. This is what allowed him to spend his tenure at Montverde Academy in Florida. It’s what got him through his only year at Oklahoma State and it’s what he’ll use to navigate his NBA career with the Detroit Pistons.

“I feel like in every situation I’ve been in where there’s been a lot of pressure on me or whatever, I’ve stayed true to who I am and found ways to always come out on top,” Cunningham said. “So I know he’s a different person than I’ve ever faced before, I guess. But I would say I don’t really see it as pressure, it’s more of an opportunity to show people something. than to think of all the bad things that could happen.

As a first-choice, Cunningham is aware of the stories of previous No. 1 selections. He watched their stories but stopped to think about their career trajectories.

Of the last 20 overall picks, 11 have been named to NBA All-Star teams. Only five have won NBA championships, with two winning rings with the team that originally drafted them.

“I tried to lock in the fact that I try to live with this every day,” Cunningham said. “And so, I’m really writing my own story. I’m not one of those guys, so it’s fun. I think it’s exciting to see where I can go and I see it as (an) opportunity to really show everyone that I’m the first choice. I was taken there for a reason.

Fans got a glimpse of why the Pistons selected Cunningham with the top pick. Part of that includes his high basketball IQ and ability to knock down shots from 3-point range. Cunningham also has many other skills that have propelled him to the top of the draft boards, which Pistons head coach Dwane Casey says puts a target on his back.

Even with eyes on Cunningham, the Pistons aren’t naive that there will be growing pains as the rookie develops. Cunningham and the Pistons are set to open training camp on Tuesday, and the team has made sure to surround the rookie with significant support that will help ease his transition to the NBA.

“The one thing I know, Cade won’t be a bust,” Casey said. “That’s something you can guarantee. But there will be growing pains, we must show solidarity. He’s going to have a target on his back every night and it’s up to us, his teammates, the coaching staff, the whole organization to make sure we support him.

With returning veterans like Jerami Grant, Cory Joseph and Rodney McGruder, plus the additions of Kelly Olynyk and Trey Lyles, Cunningham has several places to turn for advice. He has already received advice from Josh Jackson which has remained faithful to him.

On top of that, he and his teammates have the courage to pursue the restoration of the franchise.

“I feel like if you can be consistent every day and work hard, then good things will come,” Cunningham said. “So I’m not really going to be pushy, trying to force things too soon. I want to make sure everything is going well with the team and be patient. I know things are going to happen.

“Josh comes in for practice early in the morning. He was doing that when I got to Detroit, and there was nobody there. So I know he’s in a city but just to see him work so hard, he was talking to me about making sure I’m patient with it, and things will come when they come. So now I can’t wait to see how things start. I’m excited to be in the NBA now and see where things are going.

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