“I was pushing too hard, trying to acclimate” – The Undefeated

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

Throughout this diary, the 20-year-old will guide the reader through the triumphs, challenges and fun that comes with being the first choice on and off the pitch. Not only is the Arlington, Texas native a potential NBA star, he’s also the father of a daughter who will soon be 3.

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

‘There is no want to lose’

More than anything that was key to my game now, it was just about letting go. I didn’t keep all the emotions of not playing as well as I started off or just losing games. I just decided I was going to quit and play for free. Play the game that I love. Try to have fun with it. This is the main.

At first I was pushing too hard, trying to acclimate myself. But now I am comfortable. I’m in my groove now so it’s okay. The defining moment I really needed was the Portland game. Just being able to feel that feeling of shooting the ball and knowing that everyone was going to come in. For most of that time after I went to college I had a really good feeling on the ball. But, when I first came to the Pistons and got injured, that feeling was different for me. After that Portland game, I managed to reverse a few shots, things like that. This was the turning point.

It’s difficult, of course, to lose Jerami because he was such an integral part of our team. I went to take this on my shoulders, and I knew I had to step up. It’s a new role for me, but I’m delighted to be in this role. That 14-game losing streak we just had was definitely different. It really tests you mentally more than anything just the fact that you can come back the next day locked up and go back in there and try to win.

It was really difficult, but we stayed together. We tried to keep our spirits up, we tried to go out and play hard every night. There is no desire to lose. We had this sour taste in our mouth for a while, so winning was nice. And now it’s about building on it.

The high number of gamers receiving COVID is truly frightening. You have to protect yourself from it. The new omicron variant, you now see it in the league. I don’t try to miss any game. I just try to keep that mask on, know who I am and be smart when I move around and go out in public.

In fact, we didn’t bring in any new guys or anything like that to fill the positions. We haven’t had any cases. I heard about the [COVID-19] problems in Michigan. So, it’s just more of a reason to keep the mask on, stay inside, and know who you are.

I met Kevin Durant in high school, actually. We have been in contact since. I spoke to him at university. Being able to play against him recently was super cool. Having someone like that like someone I can shout at is super cool. He said to me: ‘More than anything, keep working.’ He’s a real gym rat. Often times you hear “Keep on working”. It’s almost like ‘How are you?’ and people say, ‘Good.’

Everyone is saying, in a way, “Keep on working”. But he’s more serious about it and [it’s] why it got to where it is. It’s just something that I try to do and see that in my game.

“She’s super young, but she’s quite understanding”

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

I won’t be seeing my daughter on Christmas because we’re going on a plane, but I will be doing her FaceTime. It’s hard. I wish I had been there for all those first few moments, vacations and things like that. I wish I could see the excitement on her face for her presents, and things like that. She’s super young, but she’s quite understanding. She knows what’s going on. It just gives me extra motivation to know that I have to make these sacrifices now. But I do it for what is best for the family and for providing, more than anything.

I gave my daughter a bunch of stuff online for Christmas. A bunch of dolls. I bought him a little scooter. A pogo stick. I have all kinds of stuff for her around the crib. I just moved into my house in Detroit, so she really had nothing to play with in my house. Now she’s gonna be straight for sure… I’m just excited for the holidays.

For real, man. It’s one of my favorite times of the year so I’m excited. My daughter’s birthday is approaching. It’s right after Christmas, so we had a couple of consecutive vacations. It’ll be fun. It’s a good time. December 29. I have to charge it. I have to do that.

I set goals for myself, that’s for sure. All the time. I didn’t just define them as a New Years resolution. But I set new goals for myself throughout the year and give them deadlines to accomplish some of the things like that. On the pitch, I just want to be better defensively and take care of the ball. These two things will help me a lot.

Then off the pitch, being a better teammate, a better communicator when it comes to texting and calling, stuff like that. So just be the best dad I can be, the best brother, the best son.

Marc J. Spears is the NBA Editor-in-Chief of The Undefeated. Before he could dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to do it in years and his knees still hurt.

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