CLEVELAND – The No. 1 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, Cade Cunningham, led Team Barry to a 25-20 victory over Team Isiah and Detroit Pistons second-year players Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart in the Rising Stars Challenge championship.
Cunningham scored 18 total points in the newly revamped three-game tournament. He hit a big three in the waning moments of the game and made the pass that led to the game-winning free throw for former Michigan Wolverines forward Franz Wagner, of the Orlando Magic.
While receiving his most valuable player trophy, Cunningham told TNT reporter Chris Haynes that he understood the intensity level of the game had started picking up.
“Definitely,” Cunningham said. “After watching the first game, we knew that everybody was going to compete and try to get a win, so we were able to pull it off.”
During team practice Friday (Feb. 18), Haynes remembered seeing how intense Cunningham was shouting “Team Berry” to everybody ahead of the tournament. Cunningham said his goal coming into the event was to win.
“(My goal was) to win,” Cunningham said. “I mean, I feel like we had the team to do it, so we had to come out and prove ourselves and get the championship. So, I’m glad we did that.”
Unlike in years past, the 2022 rookie-sophomore game honored four legends from the NBA’s 75 greatest players -- Los Angeles Lakers great James Worthy, Golden State Warriors legend Rick Berry, Seattle Supersonics superstar “The Glove” Gary Payton and Detroit Bad Boys icon Isiah Thomas -- to coach four seven-man rosters featuring first- and second-year players in a three-game tournament.
The tournament consisted of two semifinal matchups, with the first team to 50 points advancing to the championship round. Of the remaining two teams, whoever scored 25 points first wins the tournament. The 75-point total paid homage to the anniversary of the league being in existence.
Wagner and Cunningham were coached by Berry, who said that he constructed his roster based on diversification.
“I tried to get diversification, get some size, get some guys who could shoot the ball and just play good basketball,” Berry said. “I’m proud of these guys because every one of them did a good job. It was so great to see them playing basketball, and they really went out and played the game how it should have been played. (Cunningham) did such an amazing job taking control of the team, and everybody did their job. That’s what it is all about, and I am very proud of them.”
Cunningham told NBA.com how fun it was to play against Bey and Stewart in the finals for all the marbles. He said all three had been trash-talking each other for the last two weeks, but he sees a bright future for the Pistons’ young core.
“It was fun,” Cunningham said. “We’ve been talking trash two weeks in advance, so we’ve been talking trash. To meet up with Bey and Stewart in the championship game was how it was supposed to play out, and now I’m about to flex on them with the win, so I’m excited to get back to Detroit for sure. But meeting up in the championship game as a young core, growing together, learning each other, but I think we have a lot of big things in store in the future.”