Why Jalen Rose sees some of Detroit Pistons great Grant Hill in rookie Cade Cunningham

Detroit Free Press

Jalen Rose’s viral reaction to the NBA draft Lottery was an accurate representation of the entire Detroit Pistons fanbase.

Rose, who was in Phoenix for the NBA Finals with ESPN, pumped his fists, hit the blade dance and greeted onlookers in the bar after watching the Pistons lock up the top pick.

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“When we get it, I’m buying all y’all a shot,” Rose recalled on Monday, at his Jalen Rose Leadership Academy Celebrity Golf Classic held at the Detroit Golf Club. “One hundred fifty shots, whatever, all of y’all. We’re getting the number one pick. I’m in Phoenix at a playoff game with thousands of people cheering for the Pistons. It was so great. And then we finally got the number one pick.”

As a native Detroiter and lifelong Pistons fan, Rose had obvious reasons to be excited for the lottery result. But what made it even sweeter for Rose was knowing what the result positioned the Pistons to do — draft Cade Cunningham, a player that reminds Rose of another former Piston.

Rose compared Cunningham to Grant Hill, who the Pistons selected third overall in 1994. Rose and Hill have long been acquainted, as Hill faced Rose in college while attending Duke. Rose, of course, was a member of the famed Fab Five at Michigan.

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They were both drafted in 1994 as Rose went 13th overall to the Denver Nuggets. Hill is one of the greatest players in Pistons history,  winning co-Rookie of the Year in 1995 and earned five All-NBA berths before departing the franchise in 2000.

Cunningham hasn’t been with the Pistons long, but he’s already given glimpses of why he was considered the consensus No. 1 pick in a talented draft. The 6-foot-6 guard averaged 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists during his lone season at Oklahoma State. He was one of college basketball’s best shooters and clutch scorers as a freshman, and commands the ball like a point guard. He earned First-Team All-Summer League honors last week.

“I don’t want to get anyone mad at me, but I haven’t been this excited for a Pistons draft pick since Grant Hill,” Rose said. “And to show you how much I’m a Pistons fan, he got picked before me. I was happy that they had him, and Allan Houston. I was like, ‘they have a squad.’ I would’ve did that, too. I’m not saying that he is Grant Hill, I’m saying he reminds me of Grant Hill.

“When I stood next to Grant Hill, we both were 21 but I was talking like I was 17,” he continued. “He was talking like he was 25. That’s what Cade reminds me of. His game is going to be terrific. He has All-NBA potential. I appreciate that he embraces the city of Detroit, and we’re going to embrace him.”

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Now in its 11th year, the annual celebrity event is a fundraiser for JRLA, an open-enrollment high school located in Detroit’s northwest side. Former Pistons great and Detroit mayor Dave Bing and Lions Hall of Fame wide receiver Calvin Johnson were among many former athletes and local celebrities on the guestlist.

The academy will celebrate its 10th anniversary this fall after opening in 2011. It’s an open enrollment, tuition-free charter school geared toward setting its students up for success post-graduation. JRLA has seen significant sponsorship support over the years, including from Platinum Equity and Jeep.

“If you look back in my journey, if you had to pick somebody who would be the founder of a school, I probably wouldn’t be high on that list,” Rose said. “I always took pride in my education, though. That was one of the things that wasn’t discussed enough about (the Fab Five). We took pride in being talented basketball players, but we also took pride in not being dumb jocks.”

Contact Omari Sankofa II at osankofa@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @omarisankofa. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Pistons content. Read more on the Detroit Pistons and sign up for our Pistons newsletter.

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