For all of Jaden Ivey's individual goals—and he has some big ones—the Pistons guard is focused on one thing heading into his rookie season: get the city of Detroit back to the NBA playoffs.
"I feel like we're going to make the playoffs for sure," Ivey told Bleacher Report in a one-on-one interview. "That's the main goal, You know, trying to just win as many games. We can put ourselves in a good position, and it starts with the regular season. I feel like the first game's a dealbreaker for us just coming out there and showing who we are."
The Pistons have not made the playoffs since the 2018-19 season and have failed to get out of the first round since Ben Wallace, Chauncey Billups and Rip Hamilton were roaming the Palace at Auburn Hills.
For the first time in a decade-and-a-half, Detroit appears to be building something worth celebrating. Ivey joins a promising young core that includes 2021 No. 1 overall pick Cade Cunningham, 2020 first-rounder Saddiq Bey and fellow 2022 lottery pick Jalen Duren to provide the Pistons fanbase with one of the most promising young cores in basketball.
Equally as important: They're a marketable young core. Ivey's conversation with Bleacher Report took place in conjunction with the announcement he signed a lucrative endorsement deal with Gatorade.
Tyler Conway @jtylerconway
Pistons rookie Jaden Ivey has signed an endorsement contract with <a href="https://twitter.com/Gatorade?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Gatorade</a><br><br>He joins a roster that includes Zion Williamson, Jayson Tatum, Damian Lillard, Paul George and Karl-Anthony Towns. <a href="https://t.co/R2UxFJVMsz">pic.twitter.com/R2UxFJVMsz</a>
"It's a dream come true to be a Gatorade athlete," Ivey said. "I remember as a kid watching the Michael Jordan commercials and just being inspired by them. To be at this point in my career, to be playing in the NBA. It was always a dream of mine to eventually one day be a Gatorade athlete."
Ivey is one of just seven NBA players signed to a marketing deal with the iconic sports-drink brand, joining Zion Williamson, Jayson Tatum, Damian Lillard, Paul George, and Karl-Anthony Towns.
“Gatorade has always prioritized identifying the next generation of athlete talent," Jeff Kearney, Gatorade Global Head of Sports Marketing, said in a statement. "Jaden comes from a deep sports background in his family, and it’s clear he wants to make his own mark on and off the court, so we see a very bright future ahead for the newest member of the Gatorade family.”
Gatorade signing Ivey before he's ever played an NBA game is a bet on not the first, second or third but the fifth pick in the 2022 draft joining his fellow endorsers as All-Stars. Neither the massive expectations nor falling to fifth in the draft seemed to bother Ivey, who felt an internal pull to Detroit throughout the draft process.
"Obviously, everybody wants to go number one. But I feel, most importantly, it was the right fit for me, the right team," Ivey said. "My ties that I had to Detroit that I really don't talk about ever to anybody. I don't think anybody really knew my ties with Detroit, with my grandfather and my father and my grandma and my mom. Honestly, that was where I wanted to go from the start. Just a great organization. What Troy Weaver is doing, I just, I really want it to be there. So when I was drafted there, that's where I really wanted to be, and I'm very thankful to be in this position."
Ivey's grandfather, James Hunter, was an NFL defensive end who played for the Detroit Lions from 1976 to 1982. His father, Javin Hunter, was born and raised in Detroit before he went on to play four NFL seasons with the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers. His mother, current Notre Dame women's basketball coach Niele Ivey, played her final WNBA season with the Detroit Shock.
Nearly every member of Ivey's immediate family has a bond to the city of Detroit, but none were able to bring home a championship. He plans to change that.
"That's the biggest thing on my mind is trying to win a championship," Ivey said. "I feel like I haven't really won anything my entire life. I just go back to high school. I never won a sectional title or a championship or an AAU championship. You know, it's just my drive. Everyday practice, each day just trying to work towards that goal of winning. I feel like my grandpa would be proud of me if one day I can say I won a championship in Detroit."
Growing up surrounded by professional athletes, Ivey learned at a young age what it took to achieve greatness on the highest level. He spent his youth in practice gyms shooting around with Skylar Diggins-Smith and Jewel Lloyd at Notre Dame and getting tutelage from some of the premier coaches in the game.
"You always see these players on TV and you wonder if you can ever just speak to them or just hang with them, but I actually got to live the dream," Ivey said.
Ivey took full advantage of his upbringing, absorbing the game at a young age to play with an on-court intelligence well beyond his years. Combined with his pro-athlete genetics, he soon became the second-ranked player in Indiana in his high school class. At Purdue, Ivey made an immediate impact as a freshman before blossoming into a superstar last season, earning consensus All-American honors while leading the Boilermakers to a Sweet 16 appearance.
The first guard off the board in June's draft, Ivey knows the learning curve will be steep. He's worked on honing his floater and three-point shot in camp, knowing he won't be able to slither to the basket with the same ease as college.
"The physicality of the game, it's a lot different than college," Ivey said. "You're playing against grown men. Every single night, everybody is just trying to give it all they got, so it's a lot more physical than what I experienced in college."
Still, the individual goals feel a distant second on Ivey's priority list. Sure, he'll tell you he plans on winning the Rookie of the Year—we asked him to give a prediction that wasn't him and he still picked himself—but his eyes light up when talking about the new culture he and his young core of teammates plan on injecting into Detroit basketball.
"You can't do it with just one individual," Ivey said. "You got to have a collective group to win championships. We're building that foundation right now. We're building something special. ... It's going to be fun. Once we figure out how to just work with each other—it's going to take reps, it's going to take practice to be great working off each other. Once we figure it out, it's going to be special."