DETROIT (BVM) – Detroit Pistons’ rookie Cade Cunningham has taken the NBA by storm. The 2021 first overall pick hasn’t disappointed even in the slightest, and is in fact somehow outplaying the lofty expectations that were placed on him the second NBA commissioner Adam Silver called his name. Averaging 17.2 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 5.6 assists, Cunningham has given a franchise that has struggled mightily for the past decade some legitimate hope.
While Cunningham sits in the spotlight, there are many people behind the scenes that have helped him develop into the person, player and father that he is today. One of the most prominent is Ashton Bennings, Cunningham’s older cousin and personal trainer. Bennings has been there every step of the way, training Cunningham since he was in fifth grade.
Bennings knows the game inside and out. He played collegiately at Mountain View College in Dallas, Texas, and wanted to stay in basketball. He was a talented player, learning from his own personal experiences and his dad, but lost the passion for the playing side of the game.
“I wanted to do something else with it,” Bennings said. “I wanted to stay in the game, but I didn’t want to play anymore. I wanted to take my knowledge and pass it down to the younger generation.”
It worked out well for Cunningham, as he had Bennings right by his side from such a young age. While the raw talent Cunningham had was obvious, Bennings was there to help him take the next step and become the player that he was capable of. They worked on everything growing up, making it a priority to have no holes in his game. Every offseason they would be in the gym together, with the help of Cannen Cunningham, Cade’s older brother.
Most summers followed the same routine. After working out, Bennings would normally take Cade to a 5-on-5 open run with other professionals or high-level competition. Going into the draft, however, they had to alter their program a bit.
“This past summer was a little bit different,” Bennings said. “We didn’t want him to get injured by playing 5-on-5, so it was a lot of 1-on-0, or having either me or Cannen defend him. It was a little different from what we were used to. Let’s say for example we were working on ball handling into a floater one day. Later that afternoon, I would take him to a pickup run and he’d only work on floaters during the open run, focusing on what we worked on that day. It definitely was a little different this offseason not being able to do that.”
Bennings still lives in Arlington, Texas. He made it a priority to stay back and take care of his two children as well as still having business there by way of his different camps and training sessions. He still tries to make it to Detroit as much as possible, attending games and being there to support Cade. For the times he does make the trip up to Detroit, he is reminded of how much he has already taken a huge liking to the city.
“I absolutely love Detroit,” Bennings said. “Having some family from Toledo, I had a bit of a head start over the Cunninghams in terms of that Midwest familiarity growing up. I would tell Cade and Cannen how often we took the 45–minute ride to Detroit because of how much fun we always had. And now that we’re actually in Detroit, my love for the city is even stronger.
“All four major sports teams play in downtown Detroit. The people there are beautiful, they embraced us. If I walk down the street, they even know who I am. They tell me how happy they are that we’re here, so we want to do the same thing and embrace them back. Doing a lot behind the scenes in the community, giving back. We’re just trying to do our best by giving back as much as possible.”
Already less than a year into the move to Detroit, they have already delivered on that. Cade, Cannen, and Bennings have been everywhere in the community. Whether that be coat drives, working with kids, hosting basketball camps, or other volunteer events, they have made it a priority to make a positive impact on the city. They are still continually working to set up more camps and other events to give back to the community that has embraced them from the beginning.
Thanks to Cade Cunningham, more than 400 coats will be donated to the Boys and Girls Clubs. Perfect time for kids to get warm during fall and winter. Detroit, this is our rookie man. pic.twitter.com/afCBVWn5XK
— nick (@nsitto2) November 18, 2021
In terms of basketball, Bennings is loving what he is seeing as well. He knows it’s a process, but has complete faith in the direction of the organization and can’t wait to see what the future holds. General manager Troy Weaver has repeatedly called this a restoration, not a rebuild, and is confident he can get Detroit basketball back on the map.
“We 100% believe in what Mr. Troy Weaver, Mr. Tom Gores, and Mr. Dwane Casey are doing,” Bennings said. “We know this is a process, we didn’t come here blinded thinking we were going to win a championship in the first year. We knew it was going to be a process with some good, some bad, and some ugly. We’re all on the same page with that, and have trust in Troy Weaver. He’s a great general manager, and Coach Casey is a great person and a great coach. I’ve said before, he won the coach of the year for a reason, you don’t get that by luck. Anything that they do, we trust, because it really is a blessing to have Coach Casey coaching Cade. We’re totally bought in with this coaching staff, the front office, everyone.”
In terms of Cade himself, Bennings isn’t surprised at all from what he’s seen. Whether it be back in fifth grade, in high school or at Oklahoma State, he knew he was special and bound for the NBA. Considering Cade isn’t even old enough to legally buy alcohol and is the Pistons’ go-to-guy already, there is a lot to be optimistic about for their future.
Cade Cunningham in March:
The only other rookie in NBA history to average these numbers in a month?
Michael Jordan in March of 1985. 🔥 pic.twitter.com/hpnmnUl512
— Legion Hoops (@LegionHoops) March 26, 2022
“For this summer, my main focus is getting Cade stronger,” Bennings said. “He’s not getting the calls I think he deserves right now, so I want to get him in the weight room and gain as much muscle as possible, to the point where he isn’t even going to have to worry about a foul call, because he’s capable of finishing through anything.”
While it may not say so in their record, there is a lot to be excited about with the Pistons. While Cade is going to improve, there are other young pieces around him as well that should continue to grow with him. Couple that with another top pick in this year’s NBA Draft, and the future is bright in Detroit.
“You can’t really go wrong with any of the top-five picks,” Bennings said. “I don’t really see a losing scenario in this upcoming draft. I totally trust the front office, their decision making, and know they are going to do what’s best for the team. Troy Weaver is one of the best GMs in the NBA, and I’m excited to see who we’ll be adding to the roster in this draft.”
Things are finally looking up for a franchise that hasn’t had much to cheer about recently. With a top pick coming up, lots of cap space, and a strong young core, there is a lot to be intrigued about in Detroit. While the job is very far from finished, there are a lot of people that deserve credit for getting this restoration process on the right track.
To many casual basketball fans, Bennings won’t be one of the first names many think of when it comes to turning around Detroit basketball. But as the right-hand-man of the franchise player, a large presence in the community, and a believer in the front office, he deserves some love.
It’s about to be another busy summer for Bennings and Cade, hopefully with some more hardware. Cade won the Rising Stars Game MVP, but is looking to add NBA Rookie of the Year to his trophy case as well when this season wraps up. There have been some great rookies this year that have a great shot to win as well, namely Evan Mobley and Scottie Barnes. But if you ask Bennings who he thinks deserves the award, he doesn’t have to think twice about it being Cade.
“Nah, it’s not a debate at all man,” Bennings said with a laugh. “No debate at all.”