Why Detroit Pistons’ Isaiah Stewart and Cade Cunningham used to hate each other

Detroit Free Press

LAS VEGAS — Isaiah Stewart exceeded expectations as the 16th pick of the 2020 NBA draft.

He earned second-team All-Rookie honors with the Detroit Pistons after starting 14 games and averaging 7.9 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.3 blocks. The fanbase christened him “Beef Stew,” a play on his name and stocky build, and Stewart has entrenched himself as a core building block for the franchise.

Stewart is now in the middle of his first NBA offseason, and his focus has been on keeping last season’s momentum going. He’s in Las Vegas for the second time this summer, with the Pistons’ summer league roster. He and Saddiq Bey were in Vegas in July with the USA Select Team.

Stewart isn’t playing any summer league games, recovering from an ankle injury that cut his stint with the Olympic team short. But he has been able to train and get to know his new teammates — including Cade Cunningham, who was his rival in high school.

ORIGIN OF ‘BEEF STEW’: How a Pistons fan crowned Isaiah Stewart’s favorite nickname

TRENDING: Cade Cunningham’s hot night in Vegas a taste of why Pistons took him No. 1

The Free Press caught up with Stewart this week to discuss his offseason, injury recovery, evolving relationship with Cunningham and expectations for next season. The conversation has been edited for clarity.

How has your summer been? Obviously it has been a far more normal offseason with the NBA lifting a lot of the pandemic restrictions. 

The summer has been going great. We’re getting some great work in, and all the young guys have been in Detroit. They’ve been working as a team, getting better every day, and now we’re out here in Vegas. It’s new guys, rooks coming in. So far it’s been great. We’re just trying to gel together and continue to do everything we can to get better every day. Just push each other.

You were in Vegas not too long ago with the US Select Team. How was that experience?

It was great. Just my name being selected on that USA Select Team. Being out there with the best of the best will definitely for sure boost your confidence. Just shows you that you belong. It was great to be out there. I learned from some great coaches while being out there, and I was just being a sponge.

You haven’t been able to play in summer league, but you’ve been around the team. What has it been like not only just being here with your 2020 draft class mates, but also being able to get to know the new guys as well?

It’s been great. Obviously having the same basis, me and the other three rooks that got drafted, the whole summer we’ve just been bonding, hanging with each other and knowing that we got new guys coming in, just pretty much doing the same with them. I feel like the new guys that just got drafted definitely fit Detroit, definitely fit what we’re all about. Great personalities and great people off the court as well

The Pistons Twitter account posted a photo of you the other day, it looks like you’re out of the walking boot. Where are you at with your ankle recovery?

I’m doing pretty good. I’m ahead of schedule, but they’re not rushing me back or anything. They want me ready and 100% healthy or training camp going into the season. Ankle’s feeling good and now it’s just getting back to what I do, working every day and just trying to get better.

Have you been able to do any five-on-five, or is that later down the timeline?

Yes, that’s moreso later on. I haven’t got to that yet. No contact stuff, not yet.

You weren’t able to show off your 3-pointer much in college, but it became a big part of your game by the end of your rookie season. What’s the process been like this summer as far as building on that? John Beilein is here and he is well-known for his ability to help players with their shooting. Have you been able to work with him?

I’ve been able to work with him. It’s been great. Coach (Dwane) Casey really pushed for me to really start putting up 3-pointers towards the end of the season. He kept encouraging me, kept calling certain plays for me to shoot. I think that’s really going to help me going into next season because it’s good to get those reps in NBA games. Now it feels regular to shoot NBA 3’s. I’ve been working with coach Beilein. He’s a great shooting coach, and he definitely knows what he’s talking about any time he comes over and critiques my shot. I’m always listening and always trying to take tips from him.

You seemed to pick up the NBA game pretty fast last season, and were one of the best rebounders and defenders among all rookies. What do you credit that quick transition to?

I did a lot of work during the season with, obviously he’s not with us anymore, but I credit that to working during the season with Sean Sweeney. Just working with him made me become a smarter player. I worked with him every day, watched film with him pretty much every day. That made me become a smarter player. I was able to learn the NBA game much faster, be a better defender and those things. I’m going to continue to take what we worked on last season, expand on it and continue to try to get better at those things.

What surprised you most about the NBA last season?

It was a few surprises. For me, the biggest surprise was, I know they say 72, 82 games, but I didn’t know how taxing that can be on your body. Just realizing how you really have to make sure you’re doing all the right things so you can continue to come out and perform every night. 

You’ve known Cade Cunningham for a while. On draft night, Cade said he used to hate you because you beat him twice during your senior year. But you hosted him during one of his college visits, and he said after that you’re one of the best dudes you can meet. What was your impression of him back then, and what has it been like to get to know him as a teammate now?

Back then, to be honest with you, before I did his visit at the University of Washington, and shoot, Cade could tell you this too, in high school I did not like Cade. I did not like Montverde. I was so competitive. I was playing at La Lumiere, and we played Montverde twice. Trust and believe, it was definitely beef between us two teams. I didn’t like Montverde and whenever we played Montverde, I was always trying to crush them. I definitely didn’t like Cade. That’s the only part of Cade I knew before I hosted his visit at Washington. From there, we stayed in contact and became closer. Now I can say yeah, that’s my boy. He’s a great dude off the court, aside from him being the good player on the court. He’s a great teammate. I can tell he’s going to be a great leader as well. Great guy in the locker room.

How much does it help to know him from a competitive standpoint? You know who he is as a player, and you know you’re both competitors and you can battle with him.

Seeing him at the high school level, seeing how competitive he was and now he’s my teammate is great. Now I get the inside look. I can tell he’s a competitor. He likes to go out and compete, defend and I can tell I’m going to enjoy playing with him.

How do you envision him fitting next to you and with the rest of this team? At Oklahoma State, he was able to do everything.

I see him fitting with me easy. I’m tough, hard-nosed, chip on my shoulder. I feel like he’s got that same thing even though he’s the No. 1 pick. I can just tell he’s a dog. I feel like in Detroit, that’s what this team needs to be surrounded by is tough, hard-nosed players who put they construction hat on, go to work every night. And I can see him meshing with the rest of the guys pretty well. That’s the culture we’re trying to build.

Last question — do you anticipate there being a sequel to the Beef Stew line of T-shirts next year?

I’m sure. I think you guys should stay tuned for that.

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.

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